The end of May marks the end of national foster care month and the need for foster families in Hamilton County is continuing.
According to Stacey Maifeld of Iowa KidsNet, a statewide collaboration of six agencies in Iowa that train and support foster and adoptive parents, there were 15 referrals of children into foster care in Hamilton County in 2012. However, there are currently only ten licensed foster families in the county.
One of those families is Greg and Tammy Olson. The couple has lived in Webster City for almost eight years, and have owned the local Godfather's Pizza since September 2004. They became interested in becoming a foster family after seeing news coverage of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in early 2010.
Greg and Tammy Olson, foster parents for about three years, have cared for six foster children since training after seeing coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake
"We knew we weren't going to get children from there," Tammy Olson said, "But there are so many homeless kids, and we thought we had something to offer to them."
Through foster and adoption agencies, families can either only foster children, foster with the possibility of adoption, or adopt a child. While the Olson's first idea was to adopt a child, they were surprised by the cost, and decided to go into foster care training. In foster care, a family can decide to either exclusively foster or they can foster children with the chance to adopt them later. The Olsons opted for the latter but have not yet adopted a child from their foster care.
After an orientation meeting, the Olsons took a 30-hour course over 10 weeks that trained them in the skills they would initially need to become foster parents. After that course, they were screened with a home study, where their personal lives and backgrounds were examined to determine if they were fit to become foster parents. They were approved, and about a month passed before the first foster child came into their home.
Since becoming foster parents, the Olsons have housed six children, each of whom stayed at their home for at least six months. The couple has housed a variety of children, ranging from one year old to 13 years old, both boys and girls. Tammy Olson said foster parents can set their own guidelines for what kind of foster children they will shelter. The Olsons chose not to house any teenaged children, aside from the one 13-year-old. Maifeld said that in nearby Webster County, 79 of 172 referrals of children into foster care were teenagers, but only 16 families in Webster County are willing to foster teens.
Caring for any child presents its own set of challenges, but being a foster parent has its own unique challenges. Greg Olson said that there was occasional tension between a foster child and the couple's biological child. However, they said their biological and foster children have had many positive interactions, where their own child took up an older sibling role with a foster child.
The Olsons have overcome other challenges through the support of foster care institutions and other local foster families. For instance, when they needed a crib, clothing or other things to help care for a child that they might not have on hand, they can contact another foster family and many are willing to help. Iowa KidsNet and other foster agencies also have peer liaisons that a family such as the Olsons can call if they need help or advice.
"Your learning as a foster parent doesn't end after the 30-hour training course," Greg Olson said. "You're continually learning from others that are there to support you."
The main goal in foster care is always to reunite the child with their birthparents, if possible, according to Tammy Olson. Each child's stay with the Olsons is relatively short, but that doesn't diminish the reward of caring well for the child.
"When you have a little one that comes to you, and they're three, then they turn four, and then they're placed back at a home, and they want to come stay at your house just because it's fun, you know you did your job," Tammy Olson said.
From seeing their foster child do well in school, to sharing a hug with them and even extending their skills and advice to the birthparents of foster children, the Olsons said foster care has been very rewarding for them.