”I still call them my ‘children,’” says SaintA foster parent Judy DeVries.
Behind her, there’s a collage of photos of former foster kids comingled with snapshots of her family and grandkids. She rattles off names and shares snippets of stories about the kids she and her husband, Jim, have fostered over the years. Twenty-five years, to be exact.
In that time, they’ve provided foster care for nearly twice that many children. “We’re caring for a 14-month old girl right now and she’s our 49th placement,” says Judy as she holds a framed photo of a little girl, in a pink dress, smiling at the camera.
Knew it in her heart
Judy and Jim’s foster parent journey officially began in the spring of 1991, but Judy’s inclination to be a foster mom started long before that. “I believe God put it on my heart. I just had a very strong feeling I should care for these kids who needed me,” say says.
Although hesitant at first – they already had three children, ages 14, 12 and 9 – Jim eventually came around to the idea and they got their first placement shortly after they became licensed.
JJ was only four days old when he first came to live with the DeVries. “I just love babies,” explains Judy. “My arms feel empty unless I’m caring for a little one.”
First placement became a permanent family member
Although they had not planned on adopting, JJ became a permanent member of the family when he was three years old. As for the timing of everything, Judy says, “If Jim had felt ready to become a foster parent when I first did, JJ probably would not have been our first placement; he may not have come into our lives at all.”
Because of the age difference, JJ will always be the baby of the family, complete with an older brother, Andy, and two very protective older sisters, Jessie and Elizabeth.
Now 24 years old, JJ still asks his siblings for advice. Like the time a few years ago when he wasn’t sure if he should tell his mom about a parking ticket. The answer, his siblings said, was that mom will always find out, so he should tell her. But not before his sister helped him pay the fine.
JJ is still close by and always willing to help Judy and Jim take care of the little kids around the house. He describes himself as “Blessed,” and even sports a tattoo on his forearm with that message. “When people ask him about it, JJ always says he’s ‘blessed’ to have been adopted and raised with faith and love,” says Judy. “But we’re the ones who are so blessed.”
The need is still great
The DeVries have grandchildren now and their lives are very busy with church, work, and friends and family. But they have no plans of slowing down as foster parents any time soon. “The need is still great. We are rarely without a kiddo in our care,” says Judy.
Foster Care Then & Now (1991-2016)
In honor of Foster Care Month, Judy has shared with us some of her observations on what has – and hasn’t – changed in the 25 years that she and her husband Jim have been foster parents. Hint: the need hasn’t changed, but some of today’s training and support systems have changed for the better.
|Judy said she would see news stories about kids being hurt or abandoned and that’s what opened her heart.||Childhood trauma and household dysfunction now have a name. Foster parents today understand ACEs and are trained in Trauma Informed Care.|
|In the early 1990s, when the DeVries got their first placement, it wasn’t uncommon for six months to go by between visits with the biological family.||Bio and foster parents work together in a collaborative way to care for a child. Bio families are mentored and therapy is available for the entire family.|
|Children’s Court Judges used to rotate and if a family wanted to adopt, they had to “wait for” the same judge who terminated the parental rights.||The court’s approach to this has changed and in addition, foster parents have a lot more guidance through the court system and are supported by agencies like SaintA.|
|At the beginning, all Judy knew was there was room in her arms – heart and home – for foster children. Other than going through the licensing process, she wasn’t sure they were qualified.||Many foster parents, including Judy, say they receive more training and support nowadays – from agencies like SaintA as well as community resources like Connecting Bridges.|
|JJ was only four days old when he went to live with Judy and her family.||The need is great for foster families for kids of all ages. One hundred kids in Milwaukee County alone are removed from their homes each month because they are not safe. Across Wisconsin, 25% of all kids in out-of-home care are teenagers.|
If you have an interest in becoming a foster parent, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at GrowHope.net or 855.Grow.Hope.