‘We’d never even taken care of a baby before. ‘By the way, they’re nonverbal.’ Our whole life changed in an instant.’: Woman shares foster parent journey, ‘I’ve loved every single one like my own’

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“4 years ago, I asked a question that would forever change my life. In March of 2016, I attended a weekend women’s retreat at a church I just started attending, with people I had never met. While there, a woman came to talk to my friend who I was with. This woman was the head of licensing for Fairbanks North Star Borough’s Office of Children’s Services and she told my friend about how huge of a need there was for good foster homes in the Fairbanks area.

Now, I am normally a pretty shy person, but, have you ever had that feeling where you feel compelled to speak up or ask a question? This was one of those moments for me. I got all antsy, and my stomach started turning and I felt warm all over. I had a couple of choices: I could ignore the feeling and just stay silent, I could get up and walk away, or I could just speak up. On this day, I chose to listen to that push inside of me and asked some questions that would forever change my life.

Courtesy of Taylor Bercot

First, I asked, ‘How old do you have to be to be a foster parent?’

You have to be 21 or older. I was 22 at the time and I thought for sure you had to be at least 25.

‘Do you have to be married to be a foster parent?’

No, you can be single, you can be in a committed relationship, or you can be married. I was in a committed relationship with my now-husband (Daniel).

‘Do you have to own your house to be a foster parent?’

No, you don’t have to own your own home. You just have to have a safe home with enough space for the child(ren).

‘Do you have to be rich to be a foster parent?’

Surely, you have to have a lot of money in order to be a foster parent, I thought. No again! As a licensed foster parent, you are given a set monthly reimbursement to take care of the child(ren) in your home. You must be able to financially support yourself and your home without the reimbursement, but you don’t have to be ‘rich.’

I was shocked! For as long as I can remember, I have always known I wanted to be a mom. I felt like I was born for it. But I never thought I would be a foster mom! Knowing the answers to all of these questions I now knew, without a doubt, this was something we needed to do. I knew Daniel and I just had so much love to give, and it felt like a waste if we didn’t share it with the children that needed it the most. When I was able to, I snuck off to call Daniel and tell him about my conversation with this woman. I did not know what to expect of this conversation with him, but I did not expect him to fully agree with me and be ready to pursue becoming licensed foster parents right away.

Courtesy of Bethany Reasoner

In late July of 2016, I was in Colorado visiting family and on the day I was flying back home to Fairbanks, Alaska, I got a call from the OCS licensing office saying we were officially licensed foster parents. He said it was unlikely but also possible we could get a call for placement as early as today. Daniel and I were so excited and a little bit nervous as well. When I finally landed in Fairbanks, Daniel was waiting by the baggage claim with a sign that said, ‘Marry Me.’ It was one of the best days of my life and I was overflowing with joy!

Courtesy of Julia Smith

On August 15, 2016, I got the call for our first placement. I remember this day like it was yesterday! The placement worker said, ‘I have the perfect placement for you. It is an 8-month-old baby girl who needs a home today. The worker can be at your home in one hour to drop her off.’ Without hesitation or even calling Daniel to ask I said, ‘YES.’ 1 hour later, two workers and the most adorable 8-month-old baby girl showed up at our home. Our whole life changed in an instant. We were now responsible for another person’s life and not one that was permanently ours. We had never been parents before or even taken care of a baby for more than a few hours before. I had such peace, the kind of peace only God can give. I felt immediately equipped and able to take care of this baby girl, so that is what I did.

In November of 2016, it was time for her to be reunified. I have never experienced sadness this deep. I was excited and happy for their family to be reunified. After all, that is the goal. Just as our life changed in an instant when she arrived, it also changed in an instant when she left. We were no longer parents and no longer responsible for any other person besides ourselves and that was a tough feeling.

A month later in December, I received another call, this time for two kids: a 5-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. This time, I called Daniel to make sure he was okay with taking the placement. We said yes, and they asked if we could come to the OCS office to pick them up. We met at home, grabbed the car seats, and within 30 minutes, we were on our way to the office to meet them. We were about 5 minutes away when we got a call from the caseworker who said, ‘Oh, by the way, they are non-verbal.’ I said, ‘Oh okay, we will be there in about 5 minutes.’

A lot of the time, we are given little to no information about the children. It’s not anyone’s fault, it is just the nature of the situation. Everyone is doing the best they can in a really difficult situation. After arriving at OCS, we rode the elevator up and when we got off, the little girl was coming out of the bathroom and immediately ran up to me to give me a hug. When we got the kids, they each had a small backpack and the clothes on their back and that was all. We loaded them and their things in the car and headed home. It was a Friday night and they were only supposed to be with us for the weekend, which was perfect because I was leaving on Wednesday that week to fly to Colorado to go wedding dress shopping. The weekend came and went and on Monday, there was no news of if or when the kids would be leaving so I rescheduled my trip.

Courtesy of Alexis Smith

The first few months with these two children were incredibly challenging. They had years of trauma some known and some unknown. We worked through many behavioral challenges and advocated for them at their school and doctor’s office. We lead with love, took it day by day, and overcame each challenge as a family. For the next 3 and a half years, I was their mom and they were my kids. They went from being ‘non-verbal’ to being able to speak and be understood. They were at our wedding. They met all of our family and were a part of our family. They called us ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad.’

They were there with us for 13 out of our 18 placements and always welcomed everyone with open arms. Their case was one of the most up-and-down emotional roller coasters I have ever been on in my entire life. One minute, they were staying and the next, they were leaving at a moment’s notice. Then they were staying again and I was buying luggage, printing out all of our pictures, and stuffing photo books until 1:00 a.m. because they were supposed to be leaving after court the next day. We went from that to the very real possibility of adoption, which started a whole new process. We went through the home study process and were approved, hired an attorney, and were waiting for a few more things before we could finalize the adoption.

Courtesy of Alexis Smith

In May of 2020, all of our hopes and dreams unraveled with a single court hearing. We went from planning for adoption to helping prepare a family member to take over the daily care of the children. Sharing all of the things we had learned about them, the things they liked and didn’t like, how to calm them down when they get overwhelmed, what kinds of services they received in school and what their needs were. We were now coordinating plans with caseworkers, family members, and counselors on the best way to transition the kids to live with one of their relatives instead of the adoption. A few days later, I was notified by my company I would be furloughed for the months of June and July. This is one of many moments where I have learned the truth of when people say God is so good and works in the most mysterious ways. That furlough was a blessing! I got to spend the last month of our kids being home at home with them every single day and then when they left at the end of June, I got the whole month of July to grieve and begin healing.

Over the last 4 years, we have had 18 placements in our home. Some have stayed for many years while others for just a few days. But every single one of those kids has made a mark on my heart and always has a place in my home. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them. I remember all of their names, all of their birthdays, their favorite meals, their favorite toys, the things that scared them, and the things that made them happy. I loved every single one of them as if they were my own.

Courtesy of Alexis Smith

When people learn I am a foster parent, one of the first things they say to me is, ‘I could never do that, I would get too attached’ or something along those lines. Will you get ‘too attached?’ Absolutely. If you don’t, you’re not doing it right. What is so bad about getting ‘too attached?’ In the worst and scariest moments of a child’s life, I get to be there to help them learn how to be attached. I get to show them what a healthy attachment is like so they can transfer that attachment to their birth family. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a family restored and made whole again and knowing I had a hand in that.

To think I could have missed out on all of this if I hadn’t listened to that push inside of me and spoken up. I would have missed out on all of the relationships I built with the kids, their parents, and all of their extended families. It has been the toughest thing I have ever done and the most rewarding and every tear I have shed is absolutely worth it.

What might that voice inside of you be saying? Don’t let the fear of what might happen keep you from doing something that can absolutely be the most beautiful thing you will ever do in your life.”

Courtesy of Bethany Reasoner

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alexis Smith. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘Where’s their mom?’ She assumed I was kidnapping my son. She didn’t believe me when I said, ‘I’m Dad.’ The suffering of kids in foster care knows no color.’: Single foster, adoptive dad says ‘matching hearts make a family’

‘We don’t have a dad here.’ I scrambled how to respond. I was by myself, thrown head first into parenting.’: Single mom fosters 18 children, adopts son, ‘Our heartbreak is worth it’

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