18 Mar Q&A With Kelly // My Journey in Foster Care
We have had the blessing and privilege to have gotten to know Kelly and her family in the 4 years we lived in the St. Louis area. They are the real deal – if you need help, they are the first ones to extend their hands. They love Jesus, they love people, and they have a huge heart for children in foster care. They have adopted a child through the foster care system, and Kelly is the director of Royal Family Kids Camp Columbia, an annual sleepaway camp specifically for young children in foster care.
Even if you don’t have any clue about what goes on in the foster care system (which differs from state to state, but the general themes are the same), I highly recommend taking some time to read this Q&A that she kindly did for me. You never know what might spark in your heart and what God’s plans may be for you in the future!
Christine: Let’s start with a short introduction, can you tell us more about yourself & your family?
Kelly: Hey everyone – my name is Kelly. I am a stay at home mom and have been married to my husband Aaron for almost 15 years. Aaron works full time in our family business as a certified Arborist. We have 4 children. Three that are biological and one that we adopted through foster care. Clint (age 13), Cash (age 9), Isa (age 5), Karson (age 2). We love Jesus and love people. We love our church and find it to be our 2nd home. We are licensed foster parents and have fostered and adopted and we continue to open our home to vulnerable children. .
C: How long have you been involved in the foster care system?
K: Our fostering journey started back in 2016. We started the licensing process and were fully licensed by March of 2017. We became active in foster care the same year – when I said yes to directing the Royal Family Kids Camp Columbia.
C: When did you start to realize that your family was called to foster care?
K: As a child I always knew I wanted to adopt, but I didn’t know anything about foster care. My husband was not interested at all in foster care or adoption. It took a very hard miscarriage in March of 2016 for the topic of fostering/adopting to even come up. God was working in Aaron’s heart as well as mine. Out of nowhere while enjoying dinner at Olive Garden, Aaron brought it up. Out of Aaron’s mouth came the option of fostering/adopting which is something I never thought I would hear him say. God was working. But, don’t think it was all roses from there. The devil started working on our marriage immediately. Picking anything to start a fight because we were entering into something that God was about to take to new heights. He was about to use us to be very involved in foster care beyond just being foster parents.
C: What did those early conversations look like as you discussed it with your husband and kids?
K: So in the beginning we had the wonderful experience of watching my sister and her family foster. It made it not such a foreign decision to my own parents, who are a very big piece of our family puzzle. We needed everyone to be on board with what we were about to embark on because foster care is extremely hard. So we talked to our kids and they were all on board and we talked to my parents and they understood what was about to happen.
C: What finally made you guys decide to go for it?
K: We feel like God has called the church to love the vulnerable. God is the solution to the epidemic that is foster care. Breaking generational curses and loving birth parents were two things that we continue to hold high on our list of “whys”. We do not think it is the government’s job to do these things – it is definitely the mandate God gave the church that as a church we have chosen to walk away from. So for our family – we choose to answer that call and step into the brokenness that is talked about in James 1:27. There are so many places in God’s Word that tell us what we should be doing to love children that are without parents and who need people to step into that roll. All we have to do is look and then be willing to be people of action.
C: What was the process to get licensed? And also the process to foster to adopt?
K: The first step to getting licensed is to pick an agency. In Illinois there is the huge agency called DCFS (Department of Children & Family Services). Under DCFS are private agencies. We chose to use a small private agency located in our same town. Once we knew what agency we wanted, we called to set up an appointment with a licensing worker. They visited and gave us a whole bunch of paperwork and set us up to take our classes to get licensed. Once those two things were completed we had to have our home approved for living space and what we were set up to take as far as boy/girl, age range, medical need, behaviors known at time of placement, etc. There are so many things about children when they come into care initially that are unknown. So most of the time you know basic things (if that) which is gender, age & medical needs but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes they know nothing besides that it’s a child in need of a safe place and you decide if that’s enough information to go off of to say “yes” or “no”.
Since we are in Illinois which is ranked lowest in permanency in the US, that means our kids stay in care far longer than they should. The average is 3 years. For me that was unacceptable and absolutely not the best interest of any child to be in limbo for that long.
When we received our sweet girl on February 12, 2018 she was only a few days old. I knew in the first moment of holding her we would fight like crazy to make sure that everything was being done to protect her and to keep things moving in the system as quickly as possible. I learned the process and laws and always asked our case worker all the questions. In January of 2019 we moved to termination of parental rights. Neither parent was working their service plan that they were given to complete in order to get their children back.
When parents move to termination they have two choices. They can choose to surrender their parental rights or they can let it ride and their rights will be terminated by the court system. Our parents chose to surrender their rights which saved all of us from having to sit thru excruciating termination hearings.
Even after they surrendered their rights, we did not finalize our adoption until August of 2019 so the adoption process is lengthy as well.
C: Through the whole journey from getting licensed up to adoption, what were the most challenging things you feel you had to face?
By far the hardest part for us was the uncertainty of her future. Would we have her forever or would she go back. To be clear we went into foster care knowing that the goal is to provide a safe home for a child while their birth parents get the help they need to be healthy. The primary goal is always reunification. It is always best for families to stay in tact. We understand this but even understanding this does not make it less hard. We know that if it ever came to her going back that we would experience so much grief, but we would survive. God wouldn’t abandon us in our grief and he would bring healing.
Adoption day was also the hardest for me personally. Most people probably don’t understand why. The grief I felt for our sweet girl and the grief I felt for her birth mom were very real. It was a day of grief and gratefulness all at the same time.
C: Were the challenges your husband and kids faced different than your personal challenges? If so, what were they?
Change is hard for my husband. It takes him a bit to come around but once he does he is a rock star. So just the initial shift from our 3 children to 4 children in the very beginning was definitely hard. But after a few days it became our life that we couldn’t live without.
For the children fostering has been the best decision we have ever made. They have a love that is so pure and real. They don’t know the difference between biological and fostering – they just see a child that is now their sister. They loved without question ALWAYS.
C: If you were to speak to a family that was considering foster care, what advice or encouragement would you give to them?
You can do it! Get a support team in place and go for it! Not everyone will approve or support you and that’s okay. We all have different callings/purposes that God has created us for. Step into those and don’t look back. Dig your heels in and rest in the One who knows everything – Jesus.
If you are feeling the tug to get involved in foster care/adoption there is a reason. If you are a believer it is probably Jesus working in your heart. If you are not a believer, it’s still Jesus speaking to you because everything that is good in the world is from Him.
C: Shifting gears, you are also the director of Royal Family Kids Columbia, an annual sleep-away camp for children in foster care. Could you tell us more about what this camp is all about?
K: Royal Family Kids Camp is a sleep away camp for kids in foster care ages 6-12. We offer our camp 100% free of charge to every child and volunteer. We do all the normal things you can think of at camp. We fish, zipline, build crafts & learn about woodworking, play basketball and 9 square, go on boat rides, tubing, swimming, paddle boats and the list goes on and on. We celebrate each child with a birthday party (because many of them don’t get that regularly). We have talent shows and a carnival.
While doing all those fun things we instill in our campers that they are seen, heard and loved by all of us but more importantly by a loving Heavenly Father.
Our goal is not to just have a fun week under the sun, our goal is for children to encounter Jesus.
C: This year will be the third year of your camp, what are you most looking forward to?
K: Looking forward to seeing kids try things for the first time, to jump up and down with them when they conquer a fear. I can’t wait to watch kids fish for the first time. I can’t wait to see kids hear about Jesus and to understand that they are worthy of love.
C: What have you learned most from camp in previous years?
K: That kids do not act out with bad behaviors because they want to be bad. They act out because they want to be seen and heard and essentially loved thru them. We do something called “sit ins” INSTEAD of time outs. We don’t leave kids to regulate and figure out their feelings on their own. We sit with them and work thru it alongside them.
C: If someone isn’t ready to foster yet, but would like to help in some way, could you provide some easy ideas for them to get involved?
K: I do not believe every person/family is called to foster BUT we are all called to do something. You can offer respite to families that are fostering. Respite is extended babysitting or it can be just a few hours, giving that foster parent a break just to relax. Bring meals to someone that welcomes a child into their home. Be a supportive voice to them, pray for them, encourage them when they are feeling like they want to give up. Be their biggest cheerleader!