Compassion and Grace: A Family Shares Its Love
April 11, 2019
Joe and Janelle Fuentes met while attending college in a small southern Missouri town. On a dare, Joe auditioned for a musical theater production in which Janelle was cast. Much to his surprise, he landed a minor role. “There was a lot of downtime during rehearsals,” Joe said, “which I used to get to know Janelle.” The couple fell in love and were soon married.
After two children and two moves, the couple settled in Denver. It was there that they decided to become foster parents. More than anything else, their Christian faith compelled them down the foster care path and guided them along the way. But their past familial experience with foster siblings played a part as well. “I have one sister adopted from foster care and Joe has three adoptive siblings,” said Janelle, “so we always knew that helping vulnerable children would be a part of our story.”
Training and Preparation
With the decision made, Joe and Janelle started their 27-hour precertification training. Over the course of two weekends, they learned about basic child care and how to maintain emotional and spiritual health—for themselves, their children, and their soon-to-be-placed foster child. They learned where to access resources for foster-specific issues. And they received trauma-informed training on how to interact with children and even birth parents who have suffered through trauma. “The training instilled compassion within us so we would be prepared for the inevitable hard times,” Janelle said.
A few weeks after becoming certified, the couple received a phone call about a special newborn who needed their help. Without hesitating, Joe and Janelle said yes.
Gavin was on oxygen in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a local hospital. Born at 28 weeks, he weighed just over three pounds. For more than a month, the couple drove to the NICU twice a day to hold the tiny infant. Soon after, they brought Gavin home, where he began to thrive.
Nearly two years passed before Josiah came into the picture. He, too, was born early and needed special care. Once again, Joe and Janelle took the baby into their home. Now almost two years old, Josiah is the picture of health, toddling around the house, unselfishly offering up his toys to the people around him. The couple has since adopted both of the boys.
Joe and Janelle never assumed they would adopt two of the children they fostered. They understood the underlying tenet of foster care: to provide a safe, nurturing home until a child’s unsafe family situation is resolved. “The ultimate goal is reunification,” said Joe. “Everyone wants the birth family to be well and whole again.” But sometimes, extenuating circumstances, which may include substance abuse, homelessness, or other issues involving birth parents or caregivers, may prevent that objective from being met. That was the case for both Gavin and Josiah. Both times, the couple made the decision to adopt.
In each instance, there came a point in time where Joe and Janelle couldn’t imagine their lives without the child they came to know and love. “We became attached,” Joe said, “us to the boys and the boys to us.”
The need for foster parents in the state of Colorado is great. Every day, children removed from their birth families due to safety concerns need foster families to care for them.
For those considering becoming foster parents, Joe and Janelle offer several suggestions. “Talk to people who have gone through the process, preferably more than one,” said Janelle. Doing so presents a clear picture of what to expect. Be gracious, they suggest. Fostering can involve struggling birth parents and court system delays. “Be patient and undemanding. The caseworkers, GALs (guardian ad litums) and everyone else involved will be a pleasure to work with,” Janelle said.
Joe recommends taking advantage of the knowledge of the foster care agency staff. “Mount Saint Vincent’s staff explained the process, attended court hearings with us, and made sure we had access to resources we needed,” said Joe. “On a scale of one to 10, when it comes to knowledge of the process, we’d give them a 10.”
Mount Saint Vincent’s foster care program staff of five individuals have more than 70 years of combined experience working with children; foster, adoptive and birth parents; county courts, humans services departments, and other community agencies. “Our primary goal is to best meet the needs of the children we serve,” said Foster Care and In-Hom Director Melissa Maile, MSW. “To achieve that, we strive to help and support the wonderful foster families in our program succeed in every way possible.’
Compassion and Grace
The couple had concerns about how the foster care and adoption process would affect their biological children—Levi, age 9 and Olivia, age 7. “It went better than we ever could have imagined,” said Janelle. “They immediately loved these little boys and wanted to know what they could do to help.” Even though there are challenges in being part of a foster family, Levi and Olivia were happy to share the attention of their parents with their two younger foster siblings. “We saw a compassion and a tenderness develop in our kids,” Janelle said. “It was amazing to witness.”
Looking back at the years-long process—filled with its ups and downs, setbacks, and surprises—Joe and Janelle said they are especially grateful for one thing: their family did it together by God’s grace. Not knowing what would happen to the foster children in their care, they all prayed as a family for the birth families. “Our kids were with us, and they grew alongside us. We all grew together as a family,” Joe said. “What could be more rewarding than that?” As Josiah reaches up to pat his father’s face with his chubby hand, one has to wonder: What, indeed?
For information on becoming a foster parent, attend one of Mount Saint Vincent’s monthly information nights. Visit fostercare.msvhome.org for details, or call 303-458-7220 ext. 204.