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What’s It Really Like to Be a Foster Family?

Think you could handle a few more kids at your house?

That may sound like a crazy question, but it’s exactly what foster parents have decided to do. And they come in all shapes and sizes – families with children of their own, single people, married couples with no children, empty nesters and one parent families. They all share one common trait however, they care deeply about kids.

Sharon Pierce, CEO of The Villages, a non-profit organization that provides fostering services, says there is a need for foster families of all types. Although Pierce says that being a foster parent can at times be a challenge, the experience has the potential to be transformative for the child in need and the foster family.

Here are the stories of three families who opened their hearts and homes to area foster children, with their ups and downs along the way.

The Barlow Family

Fishers residents John and Terra Barlow were introduced to the idea of fostering by a friend, and were instantly interested. The Barlows have two young daughters and always dreamed of having a larger family. Unfortunately health issues prevented Tara from having more children. Fostering was their way of adding to their family and helping kids in need. Terra says, “Even if we only have them for a day, we knew we could make a positive difference in their lives.”

The couple does say that when a foster child must leave, although they’ve prepared for it, the process is still painful. “Even when you know it’s coming, it still hurts,” Terra says, adding that her girls have taken these departures hard too.

There are many upsides however. Terra and John adopted a little boy, three months old. Terra says his biological parents were “just kids” and simply not equipped to care for their young son. The Barlows have gotten to know the couple and have nothing but respect for them, saying “They made the most difficult, selfless sacrifice so their son could have a better life.”

The Marks Family 

After several years spent struggling unsuccessfully to conceive a child, Jeremy and Michelle Marks of Fishers decided to become a foster family – and felt “all in” from the start. “Our only real fears were how we as new parents would handle parenting someone else’s kid while the state watched us, but even that turned out to be a non-issue,” Michelle says.

Since fostering, Jeremy and Michelle have adopted five children (four of which are biological siblings), and currently have two additional foster children.

The process hasn’t always been easy, and Jeremy suggests foster parents network with other parents for support. He also offers this advice: “Have an honest conversation with everyone in the family to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

The VanGorder Family

“We know we can’t save the world, but we can help a child in need one or two at a time.” This is the philosophy of Brianna VanGorder, who has fostered several children with her husband Dave, despite having two girls who face special challenges. Their older daughter has epilepsy and their younger daughter deals with sensory processing disorder and speech delay. Despite these issues, the family still felt compelled to help other children. Brianna says that the model of her parent’s kindness inspired her and Dave to make a difference.

Initially, they had some uncertainty about what they were getting into. Brianna says their fears ranged from what she calls “silly” (how do you take care of a boy when you’ve only had girls?) to serious (would angry biological parents attempt to find them?) The VanGorders eventually became respite parents, which means they take foster children on weekends or when their regular foster parents need a break. They are also “therapeutic foster parents” caring for children with special medical or behavioral needs.

Brianna says fostering is often difficult, but very rewarding. “You will cry and be unsure of your parenting techniques, you will second-guess if this is the right thing for you to do,” she says.  “Your heart will break with their stories, and your own kids will be jealous and act out. But if you don’t do it, who will?”

Deciding to become a foster parent is a big decision and Pierce cautions those considering it to involve the whole family in the conversation, especially the children. Prospective families complete a thorough screening and training process to make sure they are well-chosen and well-prepared. And when these factors are in place, the results are often spectacular says Pierce. “Foster parents change the lives not only of the children, but their lives as well. These people are champions for children.”

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