Foster A Child. Foster A Life.
On any given day, about 300 children in Michigan need to be placed in foster care. If they’re lucky, they’ll find their way to someone like Lisa Thornton of Kalamazoo or Karla and Paul Evans of Battle Creek, foster parents licensed by Family & Children Services.
Lisa, a single mom, has fostered 13 children during the past six years ranging in age from newborns to 10-year-olds. She adopted one of her foster kids.
“I wish I’d started this earlier,” says Lisa, 50, about becoming a foster parent. “Not because I’d have had more energy. I just wish I’d started sooner so I could have helped more kids.”
Karla, 46, and, Paul, 52, are completing their first year as foster parents through the agency. Thus far, they’ve fostered two infants, a girl for about three months and a boy since he was born a year ago.
Their foster son spent the first seven weeks of his life in the hospital. Karla and Paul visited him nearly every day. In addition to giving him a loving home this past year, they’ve also shown great affection to his biological mother whom Karla describes as “a sweet girl who’s between a rock and hard place and doesn’t know how to get out. She has no family, no support network. I’ve tried to meet her where she is.”
Lisa, Karla, and Paul “epitomize the kind of caring and competent foster parents that we license,” says Krista Ploski, foster care licensing supervisor for Family & Children Services.
“We’d love to have more like them, because the need in our community is so great.”
Sixty Years of Caring
Family & Children Services has been placing children in foster care throughout Southwest Michigan for more than 60 years. Currently, it has about 100 licensed foster homes serving more than 200 children, from newborns through 17-year-olds.
Krista says the agency fields four to five calls each day from private agencies and county departments of health and human services throughout Michigan seeking to place children in foster homes. She and her foster care teams in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek recruit, train, and support foster parents, place children in their homes, monitor the children’s progress, and provide coaching to both foster parents and birth parents.
“I like to say that we are a ‘one-stop shopping destination’ for foster care,” says Krista. “Our goals are to reduce trauma for children and help them bond and ultimately reunify with their biological parents. When that isn’t possible, we work to find a ‘forever home’ for the children through adoption.”
Dozens of birth and foster families visit the agency’s Kalamazoo and Battle Creek facilities each month. Each location features training rooms for foster and birth parents, as well as family visitation rooms where birth parents can visit and play with their children under the supervision of trained “parent coaches.”
The large new Family Center that opened in Kalamazoo in late 2016 offers inviting indoor and outdoor spaces for families, playground equipment, a paved walking track, and lawn and garden areas that allow families to learn healthy parenting approaches and engage in more positive interactions with children. Support groups for both foster parents and birth parents meet regularly at both locations.
Guiding Children Safely Home
Foster parenting is a positive experience for people of all ages and walks of life, according to Krista. They can be married, partnered, single, divorced, or widowed; working or retired; homeowners or renters; with children at home or without. A stable income is required, but foster parents need not be wealthy.
“Patience, flexibility, and a heart for children are key,” Krista says. “You should be able to commit to challenges, have a strong desire to make a difference in children’s lives, and be dedicated to a child’s reunification with the biological parents.”
The State of Michigan provides modest compensation to foster parents based on the foster child’s age and other conditions. Stipends range from about $120 to about $145 per week, more for children with special needs. Foster parents who work outside the home are also eligible for daycare payments.
“But no one becomes a foster parent for the pay,” says Krista. “Your reward comes from knowing you may be saving a child’s life.”
Foster mom Lisa Thornton agrees.
“Making a difference in a child’s life is very rewarding,” Lisa says. “And when it comes right down to it, helping out a kid is not that difficult. I like to say that I’m a port in a storm, a lighthouse to guide children safely home.”
Read more about Kalamazoo foster parent Lisa Thornton in the May issue of SW Michigan Spark magazine: http://swmspark.blogspot.com/p/past-issues.html.
Read more about Battle Creek foster parents Karla and Paul Evans in the June issue of Scene magazine: http://scenepub.com.
Check out the WWMT Channel 3 story about Leland and Rohen: http://wwmt.com/news/local/kalamazoo-co-organization-in-need-of-more-foster-parents.
And read about Elaine VanLeeuwen (foster mother to more than 500 children!) in the May issue of Women’s Lifestyle Greater Kalamazoo magazine: https://www.womenslifestylekazoo.com/2018/05/03/love-children-become-a-foster-parent.