“Know your motivation”
Ken and Mary Leib became kinship foster parents nearly 10 years ago. Even after gaining guardianship of their daughter Alissa, the Delta, Colorado couple continues to foster. We recently asked them about their experiences and advice for other foster parents.
How did you get involved with foster care?
Mary: We started taking care of our daughter Alissa when she was two weeks old. I knew Alissa’s mom from a friend at work, and she asked me to take care of her daughter. We started to think about becoming certified so we would be ready to adopt just in case the county got involved. When that happened, we went through the certification process really fast and Alissa was ours. That was about 10 years ago.
Why did you decide to continue as foster parents?
Mary: We didn’t think too much about it. Our license hadn’t come up for renewal and we got a call that another child needed a home.
When a new child is coming to your home, how do you prepare?
Mary: We don’t do too much to prepare, because every case and every kid is unique. Sometimes you don’t know anything about the child.
Ken: Mary is the one who talks with the caseworkers, so I just ask her “how old is the kid?” Because we have three kids now, we realized it’s better for our children if our foster sons or daughters are around the same age. We aren’t against caring for teenagers, but we want our kids to be teens first. We’re waiting to get that experience with our kids.
Describe your relationship with parents.
Mary: Our first placement was Alissa, and her mom is still in her life. With her mom, we saw that she was listening to us and asking us questions. She was interested in our lives and we sensed she was interested in figuring out how to have a normal life.
Ken: They really dislike us initially, but we don’t get upset about that. About 99 out of 100 times, at the end of the deal, the parents like us. They see that we’re trying to help. We’re not trying to act like we’re perfect parents. We’re just consistent, on time and professional.
We do always leave the option to stay in touch, but it trails off normally.
Mary: I think sometimes families just want to cut ties and they want to be done. I get it. When we have young kids, they call us mom and dad. That’s hard on their parents.
Ken: With the exception of our daughter, we don’t foster to adopt. Our philosophy is that we’re doing this for the children. We do it for the families and the parents. We try to give the kids a good place to stay realizing that it’ll be temporary.
How has foster care impacted your family?
Mary: My parents and brother adopted through foster care. We get together and take the kids out and people stare at us, because we’re a big group. The kids don’t notice. They’ve been raised around it. They have yet to experience any backlash. Other kids don’t care.
Because of foster care, our kids have become very open minded and they have an open heart. They try to help other kids who have had a bad day.
Ken: It’s good for the parents, too. It’s been good for Mary and I because we’re just not so consumed with every little thing for our kids. We try not to spoil them, because we have to give our attention to other kids.
What advice do you have for other foster parents?
Ken: You have to know why you’re getting into this and you have to stick with it. Revisit your motivation if you get lost. It’s about helping kids and parents.
Mary: This is hard to follow, but do not judge the biological parent. This is really hard when you want to adopt, because parents do change and you might not be able to adopt.
I always tell people that reunification is the first choice. It’s what is in the best interest of the child. We noticed this with our daughter. She loves her mom. We did get into fostering because we wanted to adopt, but we also learned that our daughter is always going to love her mom no matter what.