Angel Foster Family Network
The nonprofit organization trains and supports individuals and families who provide a stable and loving home for infants and toddlers for the duration of their time in foster care. It is committed to offering individualized care for young children and therefore limits the number of placements in a home to a single child or sibling set.
We had a chance to sit down with executive director, Jeff Wiemann, who not only leads the organization, but also served as a parent who fostered a baby boy. The child was adopted by his grandmother, but Wiemann and his family remain close with the family.
What does Angels Foster Family Network do?
We provide loving care to children ages newborn to five placed in foster care. Most of the children we care for are two years old and younger. We offer constant round-the-clock support to our families who foster as we all know it takes a village to raise a child.
What is the greatest challenge Angels faces today?
A heartbreaking reality is that over the last 12 months; we turned away 215 children because we did not have enough families available to foster. There is a dire need for loving homes and if you have ever thought about caring for a baby or toddler in need please contact us at Angels to see if fostering might be right for you. It’s not for everyone; but if it’s a fit for your family; fostering will bring incredible joy; love; and satisfaction into your life.
What is most rewarding aspect of foster parenting?
Observing firsthand the tremendous resiliency children five and younger have when they have the opportunity to live in a loving caring home after they have been exposed to physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Children of this age see and feel everything that is going on around them and are far smarter than any of us give them credit for which is why a stable; loving and safe environment is so important to their healthy growth and development.
What does it take to be a successful foster parent?
A love of children; a strong sense of self; honesty; empathy, humor and an unwavering commitment to the stable care of a child in foster care. In other words; everything it normally takes be a parent plus the willingness to love a child as if it were your own; knowing full well it will most likely return to its family.
What are the unique needs of babies and young chil-dren in foster care?
Roughly 40% of all children in foster care are age five and younger and research clearly shows how important these first years of life are to healthy physical; emotional and cognitive development. When infants or toddlers are repeatedly “bounced” from foster home to foster home; their bodies and brains become accustomed to always operating at a higher level of stress and anxiety.
This higher level of stress at such a young age permanently changes the wiring of their brains which; later on in life; can result in higher rates of mental illness leading to difficulty in school; work and personal relationships. That is why it is so critical to find stable; loving homes for children right from the beginning of their lives.
How did you become a foster parent?
My wife and I wanted to have more children. I have three children from a previous marriage and my wife and I have another child together. Call us crazy but we wanted to add to our family but were unable to, so we decided to look at fostering as a way to help out children in need.
Please tell us about your experience with the little boy you fostered.
The most vivid thing I remember about our foster son is the day we picked him up. I can remember him being brought out in his infant car seat and reaching down to touch his hand and it was cold. When I look back at pictures of him he was truly in shock as his skin was ashen white and for the first two to three weeks with us he didn’t cry; coo or smile.
The first six weeks of his life had been so traumatic that he was physically; emotionally and developmentally delayed and he didn’t know who he could trust. Once he figured out he could trust us it was like a switch flipped in his brain and he became this amazing little baby with an infectious smile and laugh. I found fostering similar to coming in at the end of a movie you have never seen with the credits rolling by and now you have to figure out who all the characters are and what the plot and subplots are all why you care for a child you know almost nothing about other than their name; gender and age.
How does drug abuse result in the placement children in foster homes?
A majority of the children coming into our care do so because of some form of addiction present in the home where they were living. This includes children exposed to drugs while in the womb along with physical and emotional abuse and neglect often associated with excessive drug and alcohol abuse in the home. I am grateful to see the dramatic positive changes these children quickly experience when placed in the home of one of our families.
How do foster parents help reunite children with their birth families?
The primary focus of Angels is to reunify the children in our care with their birth families. Thankfully this happens about 60% of the time as we train our parents who foster; to build strong relationships with the birth parents or relatives of the child. Many of our birth parents have prior experience with the traditional foster care system and once they realize how different we are at Angels they know they can now better focus on completing the County of San Diego and Court mandated services to reunify with their child.
What role does adoption play in the foster family process?
Roughly 30% of the children we care for end up in adoption because their birth parents or relatives are unable to demonstrate to the County and the Court an ability to adequately care for them. Of this 30%, half are typically adopted by their Angels family and the other half are adopted by another family in the County; as not all of our families who foster desire to adopt.
How do you screen and train foster parents?
Our application and screening process is extremely in depth as we need to make sure each parent/family member has the right skills and ability to function in the emotional and stressful environment of foster care. We conduct extensive background checks on every adult in the home where a child will be placed as well as complete a home study on each family.
The home study is a structured and uniform way of evaluating each family through four to six in home interviews that results in an extensive written evaluation. We also provide 27+ hours of training and conduct a home inspection before a family is approved to foster. The final step in the process requires each family to do a short term or “respite” placement of a child in foster care.
We do this as a final step as you really don’t know what fostering is like until you have experienced it first-hand. Respite care is used when our families with a child in care have an emergency; need a break; or go on vacation and the court has not approved the child to go with them. After a successful respite placement; we then meet again with our family to make sure they are ready to take a permanent placement.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
When I mention our family fostered a child; people of-ten tell me they could never do that for fear of having their heart broken; when the child returns to their birth family. Fostering infants and toddlers is not for every-one. However; I hope by sharing our need for more families and my personal experience as a foster parent will cause others to think beyond themselves and step forward to help a child in need.