Anita and Andy have been foster parents for over 22 years Their experiences and insights are invaluable to Olympic Angels and anyone wanting to learn more about or positively impact the lives of children and youth in foster care on the Olympic Peninsula.
Their family's Love Box has seven volunteers that make weekly meals, help move furniture when kids move in, throw several birthday celebrations every year, and the cakes - oh, the CAKES!
There are also two Dare to Dream volunteers that offer regular direct support and guidance to two of the teens in their home.
Here is what they had to say...
What do you wish people knew about foster care?
Andy: That there’s a need. There’s not enough foster parents and there’s a ton of kids. And local kids can’t stay local if there’s not a local family. Which means the kids are going into foster care in the next home that’s open.
We have a situation* where a kid is in Hoquiam, and sister is here. They facilitate a visit every weekend, which means a transportation person and supervisor drives to pick up brother, then comes here (to Port Townsend), picks up sister and then drives both kids on to Sequim for a visit and goes back to Hoquiam (3+ hours one way) - every weekend. And sister has to wait a whole week before she gets to see her little brother, and she absolutely loves to be with her brother.
Anita: We have started to facilitate overnight sibling visits (at Anita & Andy's house) which is something we really pushed for.
*Identifying information has been changed but distances are real.
Anita: I want people to know it is such an incredible gift to whoever does foster care. Because what you learn from the children that are in your care is something that you can’t really put words to. It just is one of those things that when you bring a stranger into your home, you realize that the stranger that’s coming to your home - you’re just as much of a stranger to them. And then learning about one another and that availability to open your heart and soul and mind to the different ways kids are raised, what the believe in, what they’re used to - I think it’s such a gift. The amount of love in the new relationships that we have gained through our 22 years of foster care is amazing.
Tell me what life looked like before you had a Love Box vs life after a Love Box in your life.
Anita: Before we had our Love Box, Andy and I were slimming down - we were not going to do foster care anymore. We were going to retire our license because it just got too busy - too much. We were both working and the transportation to here to there, the court reports - everything - all the little things we had to do for court and the social workers…was too much. Integrating the children into their family and back into reunification - it was just getting too busy. But when Love Box was introduced to us there were all these things that gifted us time.
Andy: It was…like the allies coming up over the hill 😅 - just when you think you’re not going to make it anymore. They were a group of absolutely wonderful people with the same goal in mind - and they seem to be able to read us like a book. Just when you’re about to ask for something, they mention it - it’s magical, and it’s a huge relief. It’s such a relief and reassurance and support and it feels like our second wind. We have a different fervor about what we’re doing and we see the kids pick up and bounce - and they’re more excited about things. They excited to see their mentors and to watching someone have a birthday and they can’t wait for their birthday celebration come around. It’s everything - it’s a complete difference. For people that are thinking about foster care - it’s a whole new ballgame if the Angels are involved with your family. For families that have their own (biological) kids too - its the same thing. There’s not a kid that’s left unassisted or unaided - it’s absolutely wonderful.
If you do ever decide to stop fostering, what do you think will need to happen to support kids in our area?
Anita: Our kids don’t go away - this is still their home. And we have a good 16-18 kids that come home every holiday.
How many kids have come through your home?
Anita: It is very close to 100 - this last year, we’ve probably hit 100 kids who have come and gone, and come back again.
Why do you think it’s been so many?
Anita: I think it’s definitely drugs and alcohol, and unfortunately the lack of mental health support in our community and in our society. In order for some people to get help, they have to go to jail or lose their kids before they get the help that they need. And that puts so much more on the system.
Andy: I think it’s how you were raised - because there’s no handbook on how to be a good parent. So all you have when you’re ready to suddenly there’s a child in your life, and all you know is how you were raised - and now you’re going to do the same thing all over again. Some people did not have good childhoods - and it certainly doesn’t help them on how to be happy and raise a happy, healthy child. It’s hard for people to pick it up and figure it out. That’s a big part of it - not knowing how to be a good parent. And once you’re involved with Protective Services - it’s “these are the things you have to do to show you can be a good parent so you can have your child back.”
Anita: Our society has built such a circle of “it’s all about me” but I think that putting a child before your own needs sometimes gets forgotten - especially when drugs and alcohol are affecting your life.
We’ve had kids who have come into our lives early in our (fostering) career, and those kids have had kid that have gotten taken from them. The first thing out of their mouths is “can you place them with Andy and Anita?” And that feels like one of those heartfelt feelings that we did something right somewhere - we planted something somewhere.
The system is just so overwrought - there’s just not enough people out there to support it.
What do you think it will actually take to make a change for kids in the foster care community?
Anita: I think that it’s awareness and putting it out there that kids are so vulnerable. I know there’s a lot of people out there that talk about collecting coats or shoes for foster kids, but that’s not enough. There needs to be that awareness out there that kids need more.
Andy: And maybe the awareness part is that there needs to be more support in going out into the community - to say “there’s a desperate need for foster families!” If there were more support to the families that are struggling, there would be fewer children in foster care.
Andy: We’ve always thought about not only the kids that come into care with us, but their parents too. Everybody can make a mistake and we think about their plight and what got them into this situation and hoping that they’re getting the support they need so they can get their child back at home and carry on with their life. We’ve actually been kind of successful at supporting parents getting their kids back. And that’s been rewarding because we’re often thought of on the other side of things from the parents.
Anita: We continue to grow family members - they’re everywhere. We have grown such an amazing family through foster care.
Andy: We’ve been able to be an unconventional foster home. You can be a foster family and go by the book and make sure that every penny you ever spend is reimbursed by the state - but we’ve been 180 (degrees different) of that where we take care of kids and their situation. And if its assisting parents, that’s okay too.
Anita: Help rehabilitate those family ties - because they’re the most important things in the world.
The reason for being foster parents was not to make a family - the reason we became foster parents was to grow a child.
Anita: The kids always come first - no matter what. What is best for the kids comes first. We have a bowl of mixed nuts, but it’s been a magical journey - it really has!
Our dream when we do retire is to have the biggest foster family reunion. They walk back into our lives again like nothing has ever changed. It’s nice to be able to hold that pillar for them so that they know that there’s always an opportunity to find us and know where a foundation is. Somewhere they can trust.
A Bridge to adulthood
Our first Dare to Dream mentee we met at the age of 20. He had been in the foster care system since he was in elementary school and was soon to age out of care at age 21.
In 2018, we awkwardly asked him if we could meet him for pizza downtown regularly to hear how things were going. As he approached the cliff of aging out, these pizza meetups took on a new urgency. They soon became about housing and advocacy appointments. Like so many kids before him, he became homeless immediately upon aging out of the foster care system.
Aging out of foster care without a healthy support system or transitional housing set-up had created a predictable crisis.
LOVING him the way we would our own kin transformed this relationship from "client" to someone we had the honor of mentoring through this tough season. We had the privilege of walking beside him as he navigated the terrain between an isolated childhood in care and independence in a community.
This year, we have achieved what we set out to do. He has finally been approved for the disability he should have been awarded long ago when he was still in foster care. Through much advocacy, he has secured a place in his community to live. He has a group of dedicated folks who aren't paid to show up. We have increased his natural supports 10 fold.
The Dare to Dream Program has given us a framework to rally support around him and safely see this through as people that love him.
One part cheerleader, one part advocate, one part friend, ALL IN.
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