More than 30 foster children passed through the doors of Kathy and Tim Jones’ home in Clear Lake over the 10 years they served as licensed foster care providers. Although many have come and gone, each of them left an impression on their hearts.
“The true face of foster care is not what people perceive it to be,” Kathy said. “A lot of people think it’s abused kids or kids with major issues. And some of it is like that, but it’s so much more.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has designated the month of May as National Foster Care Month to acknowledge people like the Joneses, as well as all foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals and members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections.
The Joneses, who attend St. Marcus Parish in Clear Lake, recently celebrated 20 years of marriage. When they first married, they planned to have a family right away but God had other plans. When they realized it wasn’t going to happen naturally, they considered their options and looked into becoming foster parents. They were licensed in 2003.
One of the first foster children placed with them was Cody. He arrived when he was just 7 months old.
“His biological parents wanted him to stay with us,” Kathy recalled. “And that’s how we got Cody.”
Since adopting Cody, now 14, numerous children were placed with the Joneses — some for less than a day, some for much longer. One day, they received a call from the county about a teen mom and her baby who both needed a home.
“That’s how Cari came to stay. Eventually the mother decided not to parent and we adopted Cari as well,” Kathy said. “We knew that Cari was on the [autism] spectrum before we adopted her, but we never hesitated. We just knew she was meant to be ours.”
About a year later, the Joneses were told that Cari had a half-sister who also was in need of foster care. The couple took in Sam and later adopted her, too. At that point, they thought they were done creating their permanent family.
But the county called again — this time about Elizabeth, who also shares a birth mother with Cari and Sam. The couple began proceedings to adopt Elizabeth, who was less than a year old, when they found out Kathy was pregnant with son, Jase, now 4 years old.
The couple adopted four children in all — Cody, 14; Cari, 12; Sam, 10; and Elizabeth, 6 — and fostered more than 30.
“People often ask us, ‘How do you give these kids back?’ And I tell them, ‘You can’t keep them. They’re not yours.’ What people don’t see is the relationship these kids have with their biological family. It takes a lot of prayer to know when they should stay. I always say it is the guidance from above that gives you that feeling, that you just know in your heart what you were supposed to do that in that situation.”
The least of my people
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau, there has been a steady uptick in the number of children in foster care. Statistics show a rise from 396,966 in 2012 to 437,465 in 2016. The study also reported an increase in the number of adoptions from 52,025 in 2012 to 57,208 in 2016 through the U.S. child welfare system.
Of the 15 categories states can report for the circumstances associated with a child’s removal from home and placement into care, the top three reasons in Minnesota in 2017 were parental drug abuse (29 percent), allegations of neglect (23 percent) and allegations of physical abuse (9 percent), according to state Department of Human Services.
Crosier Father Jerry Schik has seen how families have been made whole through foster care. The Medek family, who attends St. Rita Parish in Hillman where Father Schik is the pastor, has four adopted foster children and two biological children.
“St. Paul says in Galatians 6:2, ‘Bear one another’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ Children who are not receiving proper parenting are hurting and I believe that those who help children in those hurting situations are surely fulfilling the law of Christ,” Father Schik said.
He added that Matthew 25:40 says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of my people you did for me.”
“Surely the ‘least of my people’ is equivalent to the ‘most vulnerable of my people,’” Father Schik said. “And who is more vulnerable than a child who is at risk because healthy parenting is simply not available to that child. Whoever is helping that child is helping Jesus in disguise.”
Like the Joneses, Brad and Kelly Medek wanted a family but struggled to have children biologically. They decided to become licensed as foster care providers with the intent to adopt, which for them meant they were specifically looking to adopt a sibling group of children currently in the foster care system.
“We thought what better way to give them the family they were wanting and we could also get the family we wanted at the same time,” Kelly Medek said.
The Medeks said when they began to tell friends and family about their intent to adopt, they heard a lot of concerns people have about foster children — chronic health problems, behavioral, emotional and developmental problems — but it was something the Medeks were willing to figure out.
“We let our faith guide us and it ended up that everything fell into place,” Kelly said. “We decided that there is a reason God led us down this path. It was just something that people were leery about in the beginning.”
The Medeks began fostering a group of three sisters in May 2006. The sisters had two brothers in another foster home at the time, and the Medeks looked into adopting the boys as well. In November, the girls’ adoption became final and the following year, they were able to adopt one of the boys. Because of the age of the oldest brother, he opted to age out in foster care and chose not to be adopted.
“There have been challenges along the way but that’s not to say that your own biological children aren’t going to have challenges or disabilities,” Kelly said. “A lot of people are turned away by that when they think of foster care. If you have a biological child and they were disabled, would you learn to handle it? Would you figure it out? You can do a lot if you set your mind to it and take it one day at a time.”
The Medeks attend St. Rita’s with their whole family, which now includes William, 20; Sarah, 18; Grace, 16; Laura, 15; Zachary, 9; and Leo, 6.
The three girls had some experience attending church in a previous foster home but their oldest brother had not had any previous involvement in a church setting.
“[William] just thought it was really neat to belong somewhere,” Kelly said. “Our church family was so welcoming to them when we adopted them so he thought it was so cool to have another place where people cared about him.”
Their faith has played a vital role in making them a family. They often hear neighbors and community members say things like, “You are certainly going to heaven for doing this,” and “You are such saints for saving these children.”
“But what they don’t see is that the kids really saved us. They gave us what we were looking for as well,” Kelly said. “With God all things are possible. Even on the most trying days, through infertility and miscarriages, God led us to this path that we ended up on. Through all our trials, this family was all possible with God.”
How to help
With the rising number of kids needing foster care, there is an increased shortage of licensed foster families to care for them. Families interested in becoming licensed can begin by contacting their local county human services office.
Kathy said there are other things people can do, too, like getting licensed for respite care — a way to give full-time foster parents time to recharge — or simply offer to babysit for a couple of hours, which does not require licensing.
“Find a foster family in your community. Offer to babysit for them a couple evenings a month,” she said. “You can start understanding the needs of foster kids, how foster families can function different than what you may be used to. It is really hard for foster families to find childcare for a few hours when it is necessary.”
Kathy said if a family is considering fostering, “there will be sadness and there will be joy. There will be tears and so much laughter.”
“All children have their own story. Each child is a gift from God,” Kathy said.
“You don’t always understand what happened. You can’t undo anything and tomorrow is going to come no matter what for this family. So what do you want tomorrow to look like? You can try to do something today to make tomorrow better.”