More than 200 children in the foster care system attend schools in the various districts of the Santa Clarita Valley, according to EdData, making it possible that you or your child know somebody who’s part of the foster system — whether it be a parent or classmate.
The children look, play and laugh the same as your kids do, and their parents nurture, feed and provide just as yours did. In fact, the only likely difference between the children is one group is in an imperfect and often misunderstood system, said Bernadette Boylan, a 25-year social worker for the Children’s Bureau. “People have their own ideas, but foster care is different from private adoption where you hire an attorney, pay money and hope a family picks you. It isn’t just sign up and you’ll get a kid.”
In fact, it is usually four to five years after somebody has the original thought to foster before they Google or pick up the phone to find out how to get the process started, Boylan said.
That wasn’t the case for Jami and Jeff Hoslett, a couple who finalized the adoption of three children last week.
With two children out of the house and the youngest of the three constantly pleading a case about why she’d make a great big sister, the Hosletts began to discuss adoption.
“You know, we’re very faithful people so we’re praying about it a lot,” Jeff Hoslett said. “We wanted to make the right decision without jumping into it or blowing it off too quickly.”
Friends in church and school had shared their positive experiences with the Children’s Bureau, “so we checked them out and went to one of the informational meetings at COC,” Jeff said.
Similar to the Hosletts, Janelle Burkholder and her husband were introduced to the Children’s Bureau by friends in their church after finding private adoption didn’t fit their personality.
“We thought, ‘Let’s try it,’” Burkholder said, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
So, like the Hosletts, the couple attended one of the Children’s Bureau’s informational meetings, which occur every month in many Southern California cities.
The meetings cover the basics of what it takes to start the process, “and provide the first opportunity for families to understand if they even want to do this,” Boylan said. “Some attend and think, ‘This isn’t for me.’ Others move forward.”
Those single parents or families who proceed to the next step have to open up their home to a social worker and a family assessment, “which is a very inclusive process,” Boylan said.
It’s something the Hosletts discovered firsthand when they agreed in August 2016 to foster three girls, which was two more than expected, but was necessary due to an increasing number of foster children and decreasing number of foster parents.
In December 2016, the children had moved in, and the honeymoon period had begun, Jami said, but it wasn’t long before common foster challenges presented themselves.
Boylan said you have to remember that some foster children have been separated from their birth parents because of abuse or neglect, which can take many forms and result in behavioral, emotional and physical limitations.
The kids are also dealing with a tremendous amount of loss, Burkholder added, “in ways that aren’t necessarily related to death.”
“Adoption is built on loss from a kid’s perspective,” Boylan said. “They have to lose their birth family before they can be adopted.”
Often, families want to adopt but that is not the goal or process of the foster care system, Boylan said. “Reunification is always the goal,” which can lead to heartbreak for some and happiness for others
Many foster families, including the Burkholders, have felt the distress of “losing” a child, and the Hosletts have felt the happiness of gaining three, who have all settled in comfortably despite a few difficult and intense months.
With the harsh realities of the foster care bureaucracy constantly presenting themselves, both the Boylan and Burkholder families said they cherish the positive moments the system has to offer, such as family vacations, goofy playtime and the differences made in the children’s lives.
It’s not rare for a child to come into your house and not be able to sleep, but soon they’re stable and developing a relationship, Burkholder said. “Before long, they’re reaching milestones that are extra celebratory, because you know how much they had to overcome to get there.”
“It’s really rewarding and beneficial, because not only am I making my foster daughter’s life better, but I’m also helping her family,” Burkholder said.
When Burkholder’s foster children go back to their biological family, she said, “We have more of an aunt and uncle role, (which) is really fun because our world is really expanding.”
As a middle school teacher, Burkholder said school prepared her to be a foster parent, but it’s likely you can do it, too.
“While I don’t think foster care is for everyone, everyone can play a role in it,” especially in L.A. County where there’s such a need, Burkholder said. “There’s so many kids who need somebody and you can be that somebody.”
“It’s hard. It’s emotional. There are lots of tears and some anger that could come because of injustices,” but knowing that you’re a child’s safe place makes everything feel small in comparison, Burkholder added.
People look at foster or adopted parents as heroes and say there’s no way they could ever do that, but the foster families are just ordinary people doing the best they can and making it work, Burkholder said. “It’s just opening your home and heart to another human being.”