My desire to foster started when I was about ten years old and attended the Broadway play “Annie” with my family. I left the theater and told my dad that when I grew up I wanted to run an orphanage so I could be nice to the little girls, because I was sad seeing the opposite of that happening in the show.

Shortly after our wedding day, I asked Ron what he thought about becoming foster parents. We did not overthink the decision, and honestly, we were too young to really know what we were getting into. So we got our license and started our foster care adventure.

One of the first sets of foster brothers we took in came to us about thirty years ago. Our two biological daughters were one and two at the time, and Noah and Bruce were about 4 and 6. They lived with us for over a year before the agency started looking for an adoptive home for them, because their family was unable to meet the goals of the court mandated case plan. They were adopted by a dear family up in Sandusky. We are still in touch with these fine young men today as they are raising their own families. Life-long relationships are the best part of being a foster parent.

While our biological children were young, we took in teens, because they were the opposite age and needs of our own children. With the birth of our fourth child, we took a ten-year break to concentrate on raising our family. When our youngest was ten years old we went back and got our license a second time, and have been fostering ever since. It is important to change your needs and availability to care for foster children with the needs of your own family.

These days we focus on taking sibling groups in together. Because there is such a need for homes willing to foster children and keep siblings together, on three occasions we have had three different sibling groups in our home at the same time. During Covid, we had two preteens from one family and five from another (and the homeschooling duties that came with it!). Unfortunately, we don’t think there will ever be a shortage of foster children in need of a stable, caring home.

Foster parents advocate for the needs of the children placed in their care. It’s a bit like being a detective, figuring out what each child needs. As with any placement, we are trying to get the children safely settled and comfortable in our home. We set up medical appointments because children often come into foster care with severe neglect. Down the line we focus on schooling, any therapies they need, and setting up extra-curricular activities for them.

We have had a couple of teen parents with their babies, too. With teen parents, we are simply showing them how to meet their child’s basic needs, including proper safety, feedings, hygiene, social play, and when to ask for help. As they show some proficiency in these areas we expand our instruction to include positive parenting advice, how to make doctors appointments, and about a thousand other details. We find some teens to be very uneasy around littles, but others have a beautiful nurturing ability that just needs to be supported.

We work closely with our foster children’s biological families to get them reunited, in any way that is under our control. We include the foster child’s parents when we attend doctors appointments because it is better for them to hear doctor instructions directly. We invite families to our home on occasion, once we get to know them well. We host a Halloween party each year and invite old fosters and their families over for food, games and fellowship. Some years we have a dozen children come. Thankfully some relationships last forever.

Sometimes, though, foster children cannot return home, and they need a family to adopt them. Since Ron and I strive to continue on as foster parents, and the foster care agency will only allow so many children in a home, we have decided not to adopt. There are many wonderful people in the world who start out fostering but then through adoption close down their fostering license to concentrate on the children they have adopted. One foster family we know adopted a sibling group of three and then years later adopted another sibling group of six. These amazing people are no longer fostering for obvious reasons.

Ron and I support families who express an interest in both fostering and possible foster-to-adopt scenarios, and encourage them through the licensing process. Since many people know we are foster parents, we get referrals about people who are interested in the foster care program. Through networking we find out how deep their interest is and support them in the best way to get started.

Little Nick was a sickly baby when we got the call to foster him. We picked him up from the hospital and left his parents a note on the whiteboard in the hospital room that said, “Hello Nick’s parents! We are Kathleen and Ron Paydo. We are going to be Nick’s foster parents. Our phone number is……. Please text us with any questions or concerns.” We can not imagine what having a child go into foster care with strangers is like, so we compartmentalize the areas of the case that we have no control over (like abuse or neglect) and work very hard to not judge what the family is going through. Instead, we work to improve the situation in any way we can. Nick’s mom told us later that when she saw our note, she was sure that she would be able to work her case plan successfully, and learn how to properly care for her child. This family was eventually able to reunite, and we still see each other several times a year for ball games, a luncheon, or for Halloween treats!

We encourage those of you thinking about becoming foster parents to do it! This is the sign you have been waiting for. Ron and I are happy to talk to you and hear what your thoughts are and then point you in the right direction. Dads out there: Ron is always saying “a man shows his true colors by opening his home up to a needy child.” And we all know how desperately father figures are needed as positive male role models in our society. You can do this!

Our goal is to keep foster children safe and healthy, teach them all we can, and support our own children in the process. We do not lose focus of our family, but meaningfully add to it with the additional children. It is a special and blessed calling from God.

It is very important to make foster care a good experience for the children in care. The foster care journey is all about helping a child heal from their lived traumas, yet realize that this is just a chapter of their lives – it does not get to be the final word. We guide them towards healing and to have positive momentum in life.

Kathleen Paydo, blog contributor, foster mom, and authorKathleen Paydo has fostered children for three decades. She is a member of the National Foster Parent Association, the Catholic Writers Guild, and a registered nurse through the state of Ohio. Her book, Fostering Love: A Glimpse into Foster Care, is available in print from Amazon and other book sellers.