Thursday, September 6, 2012

Stepping Up for Foster Kids

When Erin and Steve Palzer got married a few years ago, they never imagined their life—and living room—would be so full! But six years, six foster kids, one adoption and one pending adoption later and you can see their house is brimming with love, kids and pets—as well as baby dolls, princess gear, Barbie cars, Legos and Transformers. 

The Palzers are the proud parents of Amarria, 3, who was adopted in November, 2010, and will soon welcome their son, Chris, 9, as a permanent member of their family when his adoption is finalized this fall. Oh, and you can’t forget chubby spaniel “Sparks,” who will wiggle her way onto your lap and into your heart within minutes of arriving at their home. 

Erin, Steve and their daughter, Amarria
Photo by Lacey Lynn Photography
About a year into their marriage, Erin and Steve discovered they couldn’t conceive, but that didn’t stop their pursuit of a family. With private adoption and infertility interventions so costly, they decided to look into adoption—and opted to go with Foster Child Adoption. They have been licensed Child Saving Institute foster parents for just over three years. 

“We knew from the beginning that not all of the kids would stay forever, but we just wanted a child in our home,” Erin says. The Palzers had a foster son before adopting Amarria, and haven’t stopped fostering since. Erin says they hope to continue to be foster parents no matter how large their family becomes. In fact, last year they increased the number of foster children for which they could be licensed. 

They already had a 2-year-old child “Cole” in their care when they learned their first foster son needed to placed in out of home care again—and now he had a little sister who needed a home, too. In order to keep the young siblings together and allow their first foster son, then 4, to return to the familiarity of their home (where he had originally lived for a year), Erin and Steve selflessly gave up their upstairs bedroom and moved to the basement. They took in both children for 15 months, working closely with the biological family in order to help them ready for the kids’ eventual return. 

The Palzers are so committed to successful reunification, they not only provided transportation for the family to see the children on all major holidays and birthdays, they encouraged the biological mom to call every night so the kids could share their day. 

“We’ve worked really hard to have great relationships with the biological parents,” Erin notes. “I know there are foster parents who are wary of interacting so closely, but I think it’s the right thing to do and the best thing for the kids.” 

The couple had the same attitude toward reunification when working with Cole. Erin, a nurse at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, came to know Cole, then age 2, during his lengthy hospital stay as the result of severe abuse and neglect. 

After a month in the hospital, the toddler was placed in foster care with the Palzers. Cole’s biological mom had abandoned him shortly after birth, leaving the baby with acquaintances. Eventually, Cole’s biological father was notified of the situation. The young man didn’t even know he had a son, but stepped up to accept the challenge. 

Erin and Steve were so committed to helping Cole’s dad prepare for the little boy’s eventual release into his care; they invited the young man into their home night after night to learn parenting skills and the bedtime routine of bath, story and bed. Cole’s dad was nervous, but the Palzers lavished him with praise and encouragement, rooting for him to succeed as a parent. Cole was with the Palzers for a year before going to live with his dad. 

Tragically, six months after bringing Cole home, the young man was shot and killed as the result of urban violence. Cole was then adopted by his paternal grandmother. Erin, who still has contact with Cole and all of the children she has fostered, reports that Cole, now 4, is a sweet, loving preschooler and is doing well under his grandma and aunts’ loving care. 

Recently, when her foster sister and brother returned to their bio family, Amarria was lamenting she had no one to “play princess with” now that her little sister had left. Without missing a beat, her blond-haired, blue-eyed big brother Chris came to the rescue. “I’ll put on a crown for you,” the fifth-grader offered. 

With Erin and Steve as his role models, it’s no wonder Chris instinctively responds to the needs of young children. In a few years, the couple plans to move to a bigger house with more room for more adopted children—and room for additional foster children as well. 

“We will continue to foster,” Erin says firmly. “We see the need and we want to do what we can to help kids. We can make their lives better.”

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