Foster care: Helping kids in a difficult situation“They are just good kids who need a home and a healthy environment and a lot of love.”
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
One day, about three years ago, Linda and her fiance, Ron, received a phone call that changed their lives.
(“Linda” and “Ron” are not their real names; they requested anonymity.)
“We got the call at 3 p.m., and by 5 p.m., we had three children on our doorstep,” Linda said. A family crisis had brought them there.
Two sisters were in their mid-teens; one was the mother of the baby she held. The baby was Ron’s grandchild.
That day marked the beginning of this couple’s journey into the world of foster care. They were the family members that Grand Forks County Social Services turns to first when children cannot — for assorted reasons — live with their biological parents.
“We didn’t have time to think about it — which was probably a good thing, as I look back on it,” she said.
“We had no inkling of how long it would take to resolve. We had no idea how the foster care system works.”
They took a series of classes, sponsored by County Social Services, to earn the license that allowed them to take in foster children and receive financial support from the state.
“We were kind of naïve,” Linda said.
She had raised her children, her youngest was 22, and she had no grandchildren at the time.
“We had an empty nest for about a month.”
With three new occupants, their “nest” changed dramatically.
“We found out pretty quick — there were boyfriends, friends, drugs (and) alcohol to deal with,” she said. “At times, we looked at each other and said, ‘What the heck are we doing?’”
But the idea of helping kids who find themselves in difficult situations was not completely new.
“For years, I thought about checking out foster care,” Linda said. “It was always in the back of my mind.”
There was no plan though.
“I don’t make plans,” she said. “But the God-voice in my head said, ‘You should probably do this.’”
She said her choice to open her home to foster children is part of her philosophy.
“As a Christian, do you do anything beyond going to church and sitting in a pew for an hour each Sunday?” she said. “Is there anything else I can do? Am I being my brother’s keeper to the best of our ability?”
Foster parenting is a lot of work, she said, but “certainly rewarding.”
In the years since they took in those first three children, they have taken in more foster children.
‘We talk a lot’
“We’re very family-oriented,” she said. “We have dinner together; we talk a lot.”
If something goes wrong, she and Ron sit down with the kids and talk about the situation and what could have been a better choice for them to make.
She said she and Ron complement one another as foster parents because her background was so stable and his was more akin to a rollercoaster ride.
Ron “sees the problems and how they (kids) got there,” she said. “He’s got a lot of insight into drug and alcohol problems.”
At times, he can see himself in the kids who are in their care.
“He’ll say, ‘He’s just like I was, making some of the same decisions I made,’” she said. “He’ll sit them down and say, ‘You think this won’t follow you? You’re wrong. You get involved with some bad people, and they don’t forget they knew you.’”
Family is foremost
Like Ron and Linda, it’s all about family for Brent and Amy Havelka of rural Manvel, N.D. They adopted three of the foster children who had been placed with them. They are also caring for a 2-year-old foster child.
Several years ago, the couple had trouble conceiving and started to consider adoption.
“We were wanting to have kids and also help the community,” Brent said. Becoming foster parents was a way to begin that process.
“I think a lot of people believe that kids in foster care are bad, or that they did something to end up in foster care,” he said.
“They are just good kids who need a home and a healthy environment and a lot of love.”
When the couple first got the call from a social worker saying there might be a child who was a good fit for them, Amy was “very, very excited,” she said.
“I was nervous, apprehensive,” Brent said. “It was such a big step, a big leap. I was kind of dragging my feet. I wasn’t sure this was what I thought we wanted to do.”
But Amy always knew she wanted to take in foster children, she said. As an elementary schoolteacher, she had seen how children blossomed in foster care.
“I saw the difference and really wanted to be part of it,” she said.
Handling the emotional challenges of foster care was a learning experience, especially in light of their interest in adoption, Amy said. At times, she and Brent were unsure if the children would be returned to their biological parents.
“That was the hard part,” she said. “We never know what’s going to happen. The current placement could be here for a week or could be here much longer.”
Uncertainty was difficult for Amy to handle, she said. “It’s taken, for me, years to get used to it — not knowing what’s going to happen. Everything changes every day.
“We just take it a day at a time.”
Brent reminds her to just enjoy the children. Her motto now is “let it be,” she said.
Brent and Amy’s families have been very supportive.
“It’s been amazing,” Brent said. “Even if we didn’t know if we were going to keep them, (our parents) have treated the children like they were their own grandchildren.
“They’ve been exceptional through the whole process.”
Brent and Amy have kept connections with some of their adoptive children’s biological relatives, including them in birthday and holiday celebrations.
“We’re really, really lucky,” Amy said. “People give us a lot of credit. But we went into this selfishly. We’re so blessed.”
With all the foster children they’ve taken in, “even if we don’t adopt them, we think of them as our kids, that we were their parents and that we helped them for a time,” Brent said.
Ron and Linda would likely agree.
Being a foster parent is “very interesting,” Linda said. “We certainly have our days when (we) say, ‘What were we thinking?’ But it’s worth it.
“There’s no better feeling in the world than to see the kids smile and they know that they’re safe and secure.
“And you know that you have alleviated that worry kids have about where they’re going to sleep and eat and if somebody is going to take care of them.”
Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to email@example.com.