The Making of a Foster Family — What Local Foster Parents Told Us About Their Decision

One couple started fostering to give their friend a break. Another did it after they couldn’t get pregnant. Another saw it as their responsibility as Christians. 

To help answer reader Vanessa Holmgren’s question about the incentives for becoming a foster parent in Oregon, we’ve been asking local foster families: What convinced you to take the leap?

Here’s what we learned:

About half of foster children in Oregon are taken in by grandparents or other relatives — and some of those caregivers later decide to foster non-relative children as well. 

“We had discussed being foster parents when our littlest was older. When we had a family member entering [foster] care, we jumped in without question. We are now certified for relative and general care.” —Lena Calef

“We were told we had to take the child. There was no place else for him. He is our grandson.” —Kathy Wiseman

Others said they started exploring foster parenting as an alternative to pregnancy or adoption.

“We were trying to conceive for so many years, and we had so much love to give. There is such a need, and we really wanted to help our community. We felt ready after we bought our home. we are now looking for a bigger home!” —Tonya Hockett

“I wanted to adopt, so I came into fostering through the back door. While waiting to be chosen to [adopt] a child, I was asked to foster other children. In the process, I saw how much need there was for walking with kiddos through their separation and trauma….  I have done it because it is the right thing to do, and because I can make a difference in a kiddo’s life. This is not an easy walk. Parenting kiddos in trauma is a 24/7 bundle of stress, love, fun, and heartache.” —Anonymous

Almost everyone mentioned a sense of responsibility, either as a member of a faith community, as a friend, or as an activist trying to practice what they preach. 

“We knew we wanted to help children in foster care, and the need seemed so large. As Christians, my husband and I wanted to heed the call to care for things, like the Bible says. That was our primary motivation.” —Cara Martinez

“When we moved here, there were so many signs about needing parents to foster. We both worked in fields seeing kids taken out of homes and thought we could help in a more personal way.” —Debra Pruyn

“A family friend had been doing foster care for years and she never took time off for herself.  Seeing how stressed she was, she agreed to take six months off if my wife and I started foster care  So we took the classes and started right up… [and] we’re going on 10 or 11 years now.” —Rick Burnett

“My wife and I just got certified, I’ve wanted to be a foster parent for years. I truly believe that it is our responsibility to help these kids and families in crisis. Fostering isn’t done by saints or superheroes, it’s done by regular families who choose to open their homes and disrupt their “normal” to provide care for kids in need. We also believe in active activism, not just talking about issues, but actually jumping in to help!” —Jessica

Not everyone who decides to become a foster parent ultimately sticks with it. A recent audit of the child welfare system found that retention has been a challenge, and some foster parents told us that’s because of a lack of support and training.

“Choosing to foster was easy. Taking care of vulnerable children and supporting their families in the goal of reunification was an absolute honor… [But] in my opinion, the issue is not foster parent recruitment, it’s foster parent retention. We shouldn’t be burning out in five years or less. Lots of us want to keep fostering, but we can’t trust [the Department of Human Services] to partner with us to keep kids safe.” —Helene Hanson

On a positive note, many of the caseworkers and policy advocates we’ve spoken to for this series seem optimistic that DHS’s support system is about to take a leap forward. 

For one, DHS has started the process of hiring 350 caseworkers and other support staff across the state.

And the Legislature also approved more funding for programs like KEEP that train and support foster families this past spring. 

What will that mean for foster families? 

We’ll be digging into that more next week in response to another reader question, this time from Alan Lehto: “How much help do foster parents (and institutional homes) get addressing emotional and social issues for the kids they care for?”

Want to follow this series on Oregon’s foster care system? Sign up for our email newsletter to get all the updates.