By Dawn M. Aerts
Iron County Today
More than 100 children in Iron County need a caring and safe home. Most of those will find a temporary or long-term placement with parents and families who step forward to complete formal training and who become approved to care for one or more siblings in need of a foster care home. But that is only the beginning of their role to make a difference in a child’s life.
Over the past 18 years, Amy Bates, Foster-Adoptive consultant, Southwest Region-Utah Foster Care, and husband Eric, have fostered 71 kids in their Cedar City home. She said the experience has given her family a chance to ‘share their heart’ in what can be a challenging and difficult time for a child or children in emergency or in transition.
In May, Bates, with Department of Family and Children Services (DCFS) staff, foster parents and community will celebrate the national program and recognize Sam Christopher, as ‘Foster Mom of the Year.’ Christopher (and her husband Terry) will be honored for providing exemplary care and emotional support to 4 foster-care teens who have come to their home since 2016.
“In that time, she has had two different sibling sets come into her life and two of those had very difficult issues,” said Caren Cantu, a Family Resources Consultant for DCFS. “But she stuck it out and did not give up on the placement she committed to.”
The Christophers are two of 35 foster families who open their homes to children who have experienced low to extreme trauma and who often have other issues in their health or family background. “The community has selected Sam as a foster parent who is loving and compassionate and who addresses the ‘small details’ with the best possible care for a child.”
Bates, who works with potential and active foster care families, and mother of two, has adopted 8 of her 71 foster-children, ranging in age from 7 to 23. “After interviewing perspective foster parents, I have to say, I sometimes ‘skip to my car’” says Bates of her work – knowing that this would be “a great family for a child (or children) who need that short-term or a forever home.”
According to Bates, her grandmother was a foster parent, so she had first-hand experience in what it means to offer a ‘loving place’ to a child in need of safety and good care.
“I told my future husband on our very first date that I wanted to have a big family,” said Bates, “And we went on to a second date, which told me we shared that kind of love for kids.”
Bates, who grew up in Utah, believes that foster care parents need to work together as a committed team.
“We are there for these parents, as someone in their corner, said Bates, “Sometimes a placement is for a short time, sometimes it may turn into a decision to adopt,” added Bates, “or maybe just giving the biological parent(s) or family, a few days respite.”
While personal doubts can surface during any foster care experience, both believe that the reward far outweighs the drawbacks. “As a couple we lived a life together,” said Christopher. “We raised a family and have grandchildren, so we’re basically empty-nesters…But we still had the energy and hope to make a difference.”
According to Christopher, it’s about providing a safe place while families are sometimes pulling their lives together.
“Terry’s parents had foster children in their home while he was growing up; that was part of his early experience,” said Christopher. “So, we felt we had something to offer children who needed family and a safe home.”
Both Bates and Cantu are looking for foster care parents who want to be engaged and committed to improve a child’s life. “As a new Foster Mom, Sam really advocated for the siblings in her care and they worked towards the evaluations and the extra-time needed to understand the real issues,” said Cantu.
As Foster Parents, the Christophers met with educators and medical professionals to counter the issues. “With one of the children, they discovered there was an autism issue,” said Cantu of resources and needs. “Though Sam works full time, she always focuses on the positive, and has been able to persevere in times of stress and crisis.”
Having a team-spirit and working together on behavior, health and school issues will ensure that a foster family can be a positive experience for foster-kids and their biological children.
“You know, I’m just a ‘Mom’ with more responsibility and meetings to attend,” said Christopher of her experience in Foster Care. “My husband has coached kids in sports for many years so he has helped set the tone on respect, personal responsibility, and on discipline issues.”
According to Bates, children often come into a Foster-home having lost their parents, family members, siblings, friends, school and their home. “Foster Parents like Sam (and Terry) are able to impact that child in a very important way,” said Bates of her own experience. “They may only have a few days or a few months together in the foster-home, but they are sometimes seeing ‘family’ in a new light: they are understanding what a ‘Dad’ can be like; how they can contribute to a family, that there’s another way of doing things and that can have a lasting impact…”
According to Bates and Christopher, foster parents mostly love to guide children in positive directions. “I absolutely love working with kids, sharing our home and giving them a safe and positive life for as long as they are here,” said Sam.
“We would like to think that when they are back with their parent(s) and family that they will have a sense of structure in their lives and will be better for the time we had with them – Maybe it will help them for the rest of their lives?”
A Celebration of Foster Care Month, with an Open House and Dinner Recognition “Ask a Foster Parent” event will be held May 3 at 6 p.m. at Festival Hall. For information, firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-463-7404, or go to: utahfostercare.org
Photo Caption: (Left to Right) Foster parents Terry and Sam Christopher, and Amy Bates, Foster-Adoptive Consultant, Southwest Region Utah Foster Care share heart and home with children. Sam Christopher was named “Foster Mom of the Year” and will be recognized for commitment to provide a safe and positive home experience for foster-children who have experienced low to extreme trauma and are placed in foster care for temporary, long-term or adoption need. (photo by D. Aerts).