Foster care meaningful to families that care for children
It's hard to listen to the stories, and not get tears in ones eyes.
That's because while all the stories are different, they are also the same. Children from families riddled by alcoholism, drugs, abuse and neglect.
Yet underneath, they are the same as other children. They need a stable home, one that cares for them.
Over the years foster parenting has gotten a bad rap at times. There have been kids that have fallen through the cracks and gone to people who shouldn't have had any kids in their homes. There have been incidents where foster kids have caused great grief for the foster parents as well. But those instances, on both ends, are rare; almost as rare as an armed robbery in Price.
For many foster parents and the kids they took care of, the experience has been satisfying, in fact, life transforming.
"If you are going to pick one thing in your life that is a labor of love, this is it," says Layne Miller of Price, who along with his wife Karen have been taking in foster kids for about nine years. "Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job; to get these kids back to their parents."
That's the point of foster care; to bring stability and love into a childs life. It is to return them to the home they know, once it is stabilized or the circumstances under which they lived are corrected. So consequently the story of foster care is about families; not just one but two. The family who the child belongs to and the family who temporarily cares for the child.
Miller tells a story about one such boy they had a number of years ago. He was somewhat mentally challenged and his parents were in a situation where they were not able to care for him properly. The Millers took him in and started to stabilize his life.
"The father of this boy didn't like us at all," said Miller. "He may have hated us."
But the fact was that as the boy grew older he came to appreciate his foster parents and he eventually graduated from high school. Meantime the father had learned to control his anger issues through therapy and eventually the boy was returned to his family. But the foster parent experience didn't stop there.
"We continued to work with the family and one day the father called me up and asked me to go to the boys school with him to apologize to a teacher he had had an argument with," said Miller. "When the boy graduated from high school his grandparents couldn't be there so we were invited to the ceremony."
It had been a long road with that child, but it was all worth it says Miller.
"After graduation the father came up to me and said 'Thanks for being an important part of our life,'" said Miller with tears in his eyes.
Of the eight children the Millers have had over the years, all the experiences with them have been rewarding. Miller said it all began with a situation that included a friend who had a nephew staying with her because the parents were not taking proper care of the boy. The Millers could see she was struggling with this kid so they went to the Division of Children and Family Services to see if they could take him and help him.
"Through that experience we could see the great need there was for foster parents," said Miller. And despite some problems with that first child in their home they said to themselves, "We can do this, we can make a difference."
Presently licensed by the state and the Utah Foster Care Foundation, Layne and Karen can take up to four kids at once. Recently they have been concentrating on taking teenage boys.
Miller says you have to be up for a challenge when you take foster kids into your home.
"Each child brings their own issues into your home," states Miller. "If you think they are all the same you will fail at this. And you can't assure success just because you have a loving and caring home. The care needs to be totally based on the individual child and you have to be realistic about what might go on or you won't be successful."
Miller says a foster family gives a kid who was dealt a bad hand in life a chance to level the playing field, to move on to a more normal life.
"What we had to do was treat them like our own kids," he says. "If we go on a trip they go with us. We took the kids to Las Vegas and they loved Fremont Street. We have taken them everywhere; on tours, to Disneyland and just to normal activities. The most important thing we can do is to provide an example, the example of a good family."
Miller said the experience has affected his entire family.
"You learn to give and to do things for someone beyond yourself and your own family," he stated. "It certainly can be a sacrifice. For my own kids it was an education. They had to learn to give and sacrifice too. It is a real education process."
Many in the community believe that people become foster parents because of the compensation they receive for doing it. But Miller says the money seldom equals the work that must be done, and most people spend much more than they get to take care of foster children.
"The amount of compensation for a child depends on the level of the childs situation," said Miller. "Basic foster care for a child with few problems is so much and as the problems or disabilities increase the payment goes up. But I have never met anyone who got rich from being a foster parent."
Miller says the entire foster care experience leads one to places they never thought they would go.
"You have to learn a lot of extra stuff to be a foster parent," he said. "The result of that is that it taught us how to really care about others and taught Karen and I how to work together more than we ever did before."
He also says that things happen long after the experience that no one would expect.
"We have former foster kids stop by the house and talk with us, sometimes seeking advice about their lives," he said. "And then we also find ourselves providing a respite for parents who need a break from their kids as well. We do all that to help."
Being a foster parent isn't what most people think it is; no one has to take kids that they don't feel comfortable with taking and they are in control of their own situation.
For most, like the Millers, it is a life changing experience that they will never forget, nor regret.
Editors note; This is the third article in a three part series on foster care in eastern Utah.