“Every kid deserves a chance. No child deserves to be punished for things that aren’t their fault.”
As single foster parent Sarah Hatfield looks you in the eyes and says those words you can feel the conviction behind them that motivates her to open her home to children in need.
“If you can give a kid that shot, that little boost, that’s why you do it,” Hatfield explains.
She isn’t alone.
Friday afternoon, four foster families took time out of their day to explain what drives them to open their homes and their hearts to provide a temporary shelter for children in the tough times.
The families represented a wide-range of backgrounds; from Todd and Cheri Kellogg, who have only been registered as a foster family for approximately one year and are currently fostering their first child, an infant, to Paul and Carol Minugh, who have been fostering for more than 30 years and have provided a home for 133 kids and, in Hatfield’s case, even a perspective from someone providing a single-parent foster household currently fostering two teenagers through the school year.
It isn’t always easy.
Foster children tend to come from tough situations and often have behavioral issues of their own.
“There’s a reason why these kids are taken out of the homes,” Paul said. “They’re not always polite… but some of the ones you think would be likely to do (inappropriate) things, are actually some of the best kids. We tell them up-front, ‘This is your home now too, treat it as such,’ They’re not used to having to listen.”
“My main concern, being single and living by myself and fostering teenagers, is, I’m by myself and a lot of these kids are bigger than me,” Hatfield said. “The biggest thing is, when these kids come in, you don’t have any leverage. They don’t know you. They don’t have anything around them they care about.”
“Sometimes you don’t realize the difference you’re making,” Carol said. “But you sometimes find out later. You don’t always realize the impact you’re having on these kids.”
Supervisor with Warren County Children and Youth Patty Wassink, who coordinates the organizations Foster Care Program, noted having a support network is vital to being a foster household.
“We always talk about foster parents being a team,” Wassink said. “If, in fact, any of our foster families need a break. We have other families that can help out.”
The families themselves agreed.
“We have a large support system. I have a large family and so does she,” Todd pointed out. “We’ve been doing it for five months, but everywhere we go people ask how’s the baby doing. It’s like she’s a part of the family.”
“If you’re going to do this as a single parent, you need a strong support system with (required) clearances,” Hatfield warned. “So when you need to walk out of the house you can do it. I’m mostly school year and there’s no time between work and appointments and things.”
“What Sara is talking about is school meetings, court appointments, doctors appointments, parent visits, sibling visits; these are all things going on in a child’s life and we encourage foster parents to take part in as much as possible because they’re caring for this child 24 hours-a-day.”
Wassink added that support network extends to lawyers, counselors and even the child’s biological family.
“All of these families have been great about engaging the biological families because, after all, foster care is supposed to be temporary,” Wassink pointed out. “Engagement is so important. engaging the family, supporting the family through what they’re dealing with; I think that’s just a great trait to have if you foster a child.”
“I’ve told people being a foster parent is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever love doing,” Paul noted. “You bond with them. You love every one of them you spend time with and then you have to let them leave you. But every time you start to think you’re to old to do it… it’s hard to give up.”
His wife Carol agreed, “I have one that we had 26 or 27 years ago that I still get invited to all of her birthday parties. She calls every single holiday.”
“We started out just wanting to adopt, but we were told to foster first,” Cheri noted. “We think it would be hard giving her up… but we’re looking at it as it’s better to have loved.”
All of the families came to fostering on different paths.
For Nicole Higby and her husband Ellis, who have fostered for three years, fostering was an outgrowth born of familiarity.
“In high school, I had a friend whose parents did foster care,” Nicole said. “I just thought it was neat that she had all these brothers and sisters.”
Later in life, Nicole was acting as a caretaker for the aunt of a friend who was a foster parent.
“That’s how I got the number for Warren,” she explained. “I love doing it. I can’t really think of one specific reason right now but I know of four since I have four kids.”
For the Kelloggs, fostering comes as a natural outgrowth of a blended family.
“Cheri’s really, really good with kids,” Todd said. “I have kids from a previous marriage and this was the best way to have a child at home she could take care of.”
Cheri added meeting Todd provided the opportunity for her to take a step she had always wanted to.
“I was going to do it back when I worked at Head Start,” Cheri noted. “I was single at the time, so I didn’t think I could… Then I met him. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
For the Minughs, however, being a foster family had roots in turning around a tragic situation.
“I had just had a miscarriage and I was 37 years old and the prospects of having more children were zero to none,” Carol recalled. “I told Paul, ‘I have to do something with babies.’ I saw an ad in the paper and the first time I went alone. He could tell after that I wasn’t going to give up on it. We now have a foster grandchild at home, though not as a foster child.”
“I have no regrets doing it,” Paul added. “We’ve built a lot of happy memories doing it.”
The entire group seemed to agree that the struggles involved are worth it in the end.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Hatfield said. “It’s a blessing when you see that you can help, but the regulations make it tricky. It’s a difficult balance. The normal challenges, give them a little freedom, take a little away, you can’t do that with foster kids. You don’t get to show them that you trust them and they need that. It’s a blessing and a curse.”
“I can’t imagine not having all of the memories that these kids provided,” Carol said. “I just can’t imagine not having all these little memories that pop up in our minds all of the time. If we hadn’t done this, all that would be void.”