Diocesan News

Following in St. Joseph’s footsteps as foster parents

Following in St. Joseph’s footsteps as foster parents

by S.L. Hansen

(SNR) – May 1 is not only the feast of St. Joseph the Worker – the foster-father of Jesus – it’s also the kick-off to National Foster Care Month.

Foster parenting has long been honored in Judeo-Christian tradition, and with good reason. Taking in a child who cannot live with his or her parents for whatever reason is an opportunity to practice many corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The opportunity to sincerely love a child who needs that love is a fulfilling experience in many ways. 

National Foster Care Month is an opportunity to recognize foster parents, child welfare professionals, agency workers and others who cooperate in providing safe, nurturing homes for children in need. On May 13, Governor Pete Ricketts will sign a proclamation for Foster Care Month in Nebraska.

According to AdoptUSKids.org, there are currently more than 6,200 children placed in foster homes in Nebraska alone. All of these children need the support of foster families to help them work toward permanent homes, whether that’s with family members, independent living as adults or through adoption.

Foster kids come from all different ethnic and religious backgrounds. They could be infants, teens or anywhere in between. Many have brothers and sisters who wish to stay together. Some have developmental delays or health problems.

The one thing they have in common is that they were removed from their homes due to their biological parents’ inability to care for them properly. This might be due to extreme poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, or any number of other reasons.

A child may be in foster care for weeks, months or even years. A case manager constantly evaluates the child’s needs and the progress his or her parents are making in order to determine when and if the child can be returned safely home.

For some of the children, that day will never come. Roughly 15% of the children currently in Nebraska’s foster care system are available for permanent adoption.

Foster children need caring families who can help them through the grief and pain of being taken away from their parents, siblings, other family members – even their personal belongings and schools. They need the opportunity to learn how to interact within a family in healthy ways, while getting the stability and structure that every child needs to thrive.

According to the National Foster Parents Association, there are certain qualities that are natural to most foster parents. These include being flexible, patient and understanding, financial stability, a sense of humor and a home free from fire or other safety hazards.

Nebraska law requires that licensed foster parents also meet the following requirements:
- Be 19 years of age or older and in good health
- Submit three favorable references
- Provide a bed for each foster child
- Observe state traffic laws about child restraint systems and seat belts
- Ensure the home meets state fire codes

The Nebraska Foster and Adoptive Parent Association (NFAPA) is a non-profit that assists foster and adoptive parents in the state. NFAPA’s mission is to “empower, support, and advocate for Nebraska families by promoting safety, permanency, and well-being of our children.”

Becoming a foster parent is a process that has been developed with the safety and emotional well-being of both children and family members involved. The first step is to call an agency like NFAPA to request more information and an application.

Applicants can expect background checks, home inspections, personal interviews and psychological evaluation through the approval process. Those who appear to be a good fit for fostering are invited to attend pre-service training.

This training program prepares adults to provide a protective and nurturing home for foster children. Prospective parents learn how to address any development delays or needs and build a trustworthy parent/child relationship while supporting the children’s ongoing relationships with their biological families.

While foster parents contribute to the children’s healing process, the biological parents receive professional help to prepare them to receive their children home again. Fostering is truly a team effort to help raise children in need to become happy, healthy and successful.

For more information, contact the Nebraska Foster and Adoptive Parent Association at 402-476-2273 
or 877-257-0176.

Twenty-five years of foster care have many blessings for Imperial couple

by Jan Schultz

IMPERIAL (SNR) - When Charley and Carla Colton lost a child in 1989, their doctor advised future pregnancies could bring medical concerns.

Even with four young children at home, they said, it was time to ask themselves, “What can we do?”

“We wanted more children,” the couple from Imperial said.

Charley smiled as he recalled that his wife told him when they were married she wanted 29 children.

Their answer for more children came in becoming foster parents.

Their journey began in 1989, shortly after their child was stillborn. They became respite caregivers, providing a break for other adults who were caring for long-term foster children.

Just a year later in 1990, the Coltons became licensed for “our own placements,” Charley said.

“Foster care allowed us to continue to be involved with other children,” Carla said.

But that certainly is an understatement for the Coltons, active members of St. Patrick Parish in Imperial.

In the past 25 years, the Colton household in rural Imperial has been a temporary home to 201 foster children.

There are many stories to tell in 25 years of foster care, but the Coltons concentrated on the positives of being special parents to children who need a loving place to stay temporarily.

“It’s the little things, like when one of them graduates from high school,” Carla said. “Or we get a call after five years to tell us ‘thanks,’ when we weren’t sure we made a difference” to that child, she added.

Charley remembered one of their “runners,” a youngster who ran off while in their care, stealing a bike in the process.

“We had a call from him four years later. He told us we made a difference. I didn’t even think he liked it here,” he laughed.

Then there are the wedding invitations and baby announcements they receive from former foster children. Charley was even best man in one of those weddings.

Compassion, understanding and patience were all qualities the Coltons say are important in being foster parents.

They both agreed patience is likely most important, as it is for any parent.

Add in the many court appearances, work with HHS, lawyers and doctors, communication is also key, they said. They admit it was, at times, not easy for their own children when they took in foster kids.

“There were times it wasn’t easy. There were fights, of course,” Carla said.

However, it was a rule that after the couple received a call from the state about a placement, they’d schedule a family meeting and take a vote among their children.

“We never had a no vote,” they said.

While the Coltons have made such a difference in so many childrens’ lives, they have also received special blessings of their own as a result of their foster parenting.

On March 25 this year, the couple adopted 21-month-old Ashleigh Chantel, the fourth child they’ve adopted since 2005, all of whom have been former foster children.

“Adopting wasn’t part of the plan,” Charley smiled.

But, God works in special ways.

Little Ashleigh joins three other children the Coltons have adopted since 2005, including Dakota, 17, Shakota, 13, and LaReina, 11.
They join birth children Nick, 32, Holly Enriquez, 30, Ashton, 29, and Bryant, 28.

And even some 20-plus years later, their own adult children remain supportive of their parents’ choice to be foster parents.
Holly, their second oldest, was pregnant with her first child 21 months ago when the Coltons took in Ashleigh for foster care right from the hospital in which she was born.

Carla said they didn’t want it to take away from their involvement in the birth of their daughter’s first child.

What was Holly’s response?

“You go get that baby,” Carla said her daughter told her.

She added, “And now we get to go shopping together for baby clothes.”

The Coltons have also taken their involvement in foster care beyond their home, which is one of 1,800 licensed foster care homes in Nebraska.

The couple currently serve together as co-presidents of the Nebraska Foster and Adoptive Parent Association. Carla was also  the state affiliate chair for the national organization for a short time.

So what’s ahead for the Coltons?

“If they (the state) call tomorrow, we’ll consider it. That’s how it’s always been,” Charley said.


Married couples needed: a single foster father’s perspective

From Tom Dierks, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Lincoln

Back in January about two years ago, I got a call about 8:30 one evening, requesting an emergency placement for a 7-year-old boy to be brought in to my home that night. 

I asked for how long this would be.  They weren’t sure, but I said “OK.”  Then, about a half-hour later, I got another call, asking if I could also take the 6-year-old brother, so the two could be together, so again I said “OK.” The first child arrived about 12:30 that night, and the second came in about a half hour later.

So, after a crash course in all things Spiderman, what began as a short stay, turned into an 11-month adventure, of sorts.

I have been a foster parent off and on for 12 years.  Although my work has mostly been with teen-aged boys, it was during this last experience with the 6- and 7-year-olds that I became more keenly aware of the need for more married couples to be engaged in this work.

Although there continues to be a place for single people such as myself to do foster care, my personal experience points to the need for more married couples’ involvement for several reasons. Imagine a situation of conflict, when a child needs that second parent to go to for consolation, or relief.  Also, your mutual support is essential for improving interactions with children and managing conflicts.

If you don’t have children, here’s an opportunity to help kids.  If you do have children, then you’ve got experience which is greatly needed.

As foster parents, you choose the time frame, the number of children, even the age you wish to work with.  You could have a 3-year-old boy for three weeks, or a 15-year-old girl begin a stay for a few years.

Certainly there are challenging situations, but the issue is not so much where these kids have been, and how they got there, but where they are going, and what you can do to encourage them.

In addition to standard placements, there is also respite care, emergency placement, and foster-adopt.

The most common responses I get from people are “I could never do that,” or “It’d be too hard to see them go.”  Trust me.  Sometimes, that’s okay...

You may think that foster parenting is not for you.  Well, that’s okay.  Most kids in foster care don’t think it’s for them, either.  But they need homes and we need more married couples to provide those homes.

As Catholics, we have an opportunity to provide stable homes to the 37 children in the Lincoln area currently needing placement.
Thank you for considering the opportunity of foster parenting.

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