May is National Foster Care Month –– a time when we get to celebrate foster parents, a group of caring, committed people who are too often underappreciated! I count myself amongst the very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with foster families since the early 1970s. I certainly appreciate and admire all of the Amazing Families that have served children under the Family Care Network umbrella over the last 32 years. As our organization has grown, I have unfortunately been further and further removed from the day in and day out contact with our foster families. If I may, I would like to reminisce a bit about some of the Amazing Families I have known, particularly in my early days as a Probation Officer and when I started the Family Care Network.
Forgive me for sharing this family yet again, but they definitely set the stage for my appreciation for the amazing work foster parents do. The first Foster Family that I really had involvement with was Jimmy and Edith Dawson. Over the years, they took in hundreds of foster kids, and took care of them just like their own. It made no difference what kind of behaviors were manifested, or what age, race, or gender they were. To them, they were just “their kids.” The walls of their home were literally covered with pictures of foster kids, and foster kids’ children and even some of their children’s children! When Aunt Edith, as we all called her, passed away, well over 1000 folks showed up to honor her, mostly her “kids.” Jimmy and Edith were an Amazing Family.
Jack and Aurita Smith were another Amazing Family that I met during my probation experience. Like the Dawsons, they saw themselves as parents to kids who needed some, regardless of who they were or how they acted. They started as a foster family while raising their own kids, but eventually expanded their love and compassion for foster children into the “Jack Smith Ranch.” It was a unique set up with a series of homes, each with a mom and dad, overseen by Jack and Aurita. Over the years, I’m sure they served several thousand kids with the highest quality of care, love and guidance you can imagine.
One of the first families I recruited and certified with the Family Care Network was Don and Sharon Miller. They had a son who suffered from muscular dystrophy and pursued fostering and adopting a small foster child who also had MD. Don and Sharon not only marvelously parented their disabled sons, but took in other foster children, including a very challenging group of siblings! These wonderful foster parents also spent a season on the Family Care Network Board of Directors.
We have had many Amazing Families that started as foster parents, but ended up adopting. Sam and Debbie O’Neill were one such family. Unable to have children of their own, they built their family through foster care and adoption–four children, two sons and two daughters. Their remarkable love and commitment to their children is exemplified in the fact that all four were “special needs” children, coming to them as drug addicted infants! It goes without saying, they experienced some real challenges, including the loss of one teenage daughter. Nonetheless, they always remained exemplary, amazing parents!
In the early days of Family Care Network, we had a season where we received so many referrals for really challenging, difficult teenage girls. Maureen Nettles emerged as a superstar foster mom, willing to work with these girls, sometimes four or five at a time! Maureen has a special ability to connect and earn respect--and after nearly three decades she is still at it! She has been able to achieve success with foster youth--boys and girls--where no one else was able. She has truly demonstrated what an Amazing Foster Family is, positively impacting so many young lives!
Maureen is just one of many single foster parents, men and women, who have done incredible work with our kids. One of them was a retired CMC employee, Greg Rowe, who worked with some very difficult young men. His patience, skill and calm personality made him a very successful Amazing Foster Parent.
Over the span of our 30+ years, we have probably recruited most of our families through churches and faith-based communities. Some of our most successful Amazing Families were in fact pastors and their wives who responded to foster parenting as a “calling.” I got to know several of them very well, spending much time in their homes. The first that comes to mind is Gary and Lalana Pack. The Packs were truly Amazing! They worked with just about everyone we referred to them; boys, girls, sibling groups, and kids with all kinds of behaviors, even substance abusers. This was a family that really “practiced what they preached,” going the extra mile, time and time again, positively impacting one young life after another. Eventually Gary took a pastorate out of the area, but they left a lasting legacy for being an Amazing Family.
Another pastor and his wife, and close friends of the Packs, was Nelson and Vicki Noe. I will always remember Mr. and Mrs. Noe, and them taking in a very large sibling group of very young, really traumatized children. They worked very closely with us for over a year or so to stabilize the kids behaviors, and then they adopted the entire group of kids! Plus, they had kids of their own! The Noe family was truly Amazing.
As I wind down the end of this reminiscing journey, I will end with a family that exemplifies the heart and soul of foster parenting at the highest level, Ann and Ray Ward. By way of history, before I started Family Care Network I developed foster care services here on the Central Coast with another organization under the stipulation that when I was ready, I would start my own agency. Ann and Ray were one of those original families, they were also the first Family Care Network family. They have been fostering with me for 34 years! A few months ago they made the decision to scale back so they could travel more, and now they provide respite care for us when they can. They have absolutely earned this semi-retirement.
Over their tenure with Family Care Network they have parented over 120 children and youth. They have worked with every conceivable type of child in foster care, the toughest of the tough! They have been the model Therapeutic Foster Family, providing an Amazing Healing Home. Ann has served as an FCNI trainer and Parent Partner for several decades, and is an expert on trauma-informed care, behavioral management and Therapeutic Foster Parenting. What has really impressed me about the Wards is that they have made their family their ministry. Ray has walked former foster daughters down wedding aisles, and they have stayed connected with their foster kids and with their kids’ kids. They have truly created one huge Amazing Family!
I am sorry that I am not able to talk about each one of the hundreds of Amazing Families who have effectively served children and youth through the Family Care Network over the years. Nonetheless, each one of them is just as appreciated, as are all foster parents who have provided Amazing Families to tens of thousands of foster children and youth whose life circumstances created the need. As we celebrate National Foster Care Month, reach out and thank everyone you know who has provided this vital family-service in your community!
If you're interested in becoming a foster parent or adopting, please contact us at, firstname.lastname@example.org, and ask how you can get started today.