Tell us about you and your family.
We are high school sweethearts who got married young (ages 21 & 19). We have been together for 26 years and have been married for almost 23 years. We are biological parents, foster parents, and youth leaders. Joel is owner/operator of a lawn care company, Summertime Lawn Care. He has been self-employed for 20 years. He also works part time at our church as a youth pastor. I (Tara) have not worked outside the home for the last 18 years. I am a stay-at-home and homeschooling mom. I have homeschooled all our biological children, and our oldest is about to finish her first year of college. We are both from the Tulsa area and Joel graduated from Sand Springs, and I graduated from Jenks. We currently live in Sand Springs.
Did you have children in the home prior to foster care?
Yes. We have 4 biological children. When we received our first foster placement, our biological children were ages 14, 11, 6 and 4. They are currently 18, 16, 10 and 9.
When was the first time you heard about foster care? Foster care has been part of both of our stories since childhood.
Both of Joel’s parents were orphans at a very young age and grew up in the Sand Springs Orphanage started by Charles Page. Joel’s father spent some time in the foster care system as well. He lived in several different foster homes.
I (Tara) grew up knowing about foster care because my parents were foster parents for a few years, so I was able to experience foster care as a foster sibling. I still remember the names of the many children who lived in our home. I think of them often and wonder where they are and what they are doing now.
As adults we stayed close to the foster care system before becoming foster parents ourselves because we had several friends who were foster/adoptive parents.
What was the tipping point in making the first call to DHS to become foster parents? We didn’t make the call - they actually called us!
We had talked about foster care and/or adoption before, but had convinced ourselves that we “had enough kids” and had “too much on our plates” in order to take on that kind of commitment. We thought it would be too difficult while running a business, homeschooling, and being youth leaders.
As I already mentioned, we are youth leaders at our church. We had a sibling group of 4 who came to our church for several years. We could tell that something was not right, but we were never able to pinpoint exactly what was wrong. We built a relationship with them, especially the teenager who was in our youth group. One night while we were at church, she eventually confided some information to me that I knew I had to report. I called both the police and DHS and made a report. They removed the children that night and told me that they would be going to live with family members, I gave the worker my phone number and asked if she could tell us where they ended up so that we could keep in contact with them and maintain the connection to our church. I got a call a week later telling me that 2 of the 4 children were not able to stay with family members and needed a place to live. They asked if we could take placement. I let them know that we were not foster parents. She told us we could take the placement and then enroll in the classes. We began rearranging our home, and a few hours later two of the children were in our home. We completed the classes a few weeks later and got fully into the foster care life. They lived with us for 2 years before being reunited with their siblings and their father.
Knowing what you know now, would you do it all over again? Absolutely. All of our previous excuses proved to be untrue. There’s no such thing as “enough kids” or being “too busy” to give children a safe, loving home. The children are worth all the heartaches and frustrations. Our family is now extended to those outside our home who do not share our biology. Foster care has made us better parents. Foster care has also changed our biological children - they recognize those who are hurting and have compassion and want to help. Our oldest daughter is now in college and majoring in social work. How long do you think you will be foster parents? We have been foster parents for 4.5 years. We are currently getting ready to adopt a child out of foster care, so we plan to close our home for a period of time to give that child some time to work through some trauma. When we have had some time to work through some healing, we will discuss reopening. But no matter what, we will continue to be involved in the foster care community in some way - respite, CASA, serving on committees… something! Our eyes have been opened to the tremendous need! How has FCAO played a role in your foster journey?
This group has been a blessing to know that we are not alone. It's a place to share our heartaches and our successes. It's a place to ask questions and get answers. It’s a place to get new ideas to try in our home. And more recently I have found a new passion by participating in the legislative committee, fighting for positive change in the system.
How important is community to you?
Community is absolutely imperative. We could not do this foster care life without "our tribe". They help us with childcare, appointments, emotional support/encouragement, prayer, and more. What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a foster parent? Buckle up and hold on tight, because it’s a roller coaster, but the children are worth it.
Build a support system, and don’t be afraid to use it.
Educate yourself on trauma parenting.
Practice self-care when it is needed.
Advocate, advocate, advocate.
Hold people in the system accountable.
And, please, GET TOO ATTACHED. These kids need it!