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our foster journey

written by foster parents Ryan + Abby Harrell

Six years ago, our family made the decision to open our home to children through foster care. We looked at multiple agencies before starting the process, and Arbor Circle seemed like the right fit for us. Since the beginning of our foster care experience, the staff at Arbor Circle has been supportive, resourceful, and empathetic partners with us.

Our family, and our definition of the word “family”, has grown since our first foster care experiences. We started with our 3 biological children, all boys, and we’ve had 17 “additions” over the past 6 years. One of those additions is now our 4th son through adoption. The stories we’ve accumulated through all the children we’ve had in our home explain the many ways they’ve expanded our concept of what a family is, what it means to show love to others, and what it means to be human.

After we adopted, our inclination as parents was to close our license and move on as a family of 6. We never expected that our own children would tell us that we needed to continue fostering! They were adamant that even with a new little brother at home, we could still host other kids in need. Since then, we’ve taken on multiple respites, several long term foster kids, sibling groups, and expanded our license to include teenagers.

One of the major lessons that we’ve learned is that many of the children who’ve come through our home simply need stability and structure. Something has occurred to turn their lives inside out and by providing some semblance of stability and structure we help them find the strength to move forward. So often the kids we take in are so close to moving on to brighter futures and we get to watch them move in that direction. One of our teenage foster kids graduated from high school early and was ready to enroll in community college. Circumstances at home would make it really challenging for her to commit to making college a reality. With our guidance and the stability our home offers, she was able to enroll and get a strong start to her college experience.

We were nervous about what it would be like to work with the parents of the children that enter our home, but we’ve found that being able to work alongside of the birth parents and mentor them through the process has been one of our favorite parts of the journey. Initially there can be tension with birth parents, but by listening, sharing our love for their children, and encouraging them as they move forward, some of these relationships have blossomed in amazing ways.  Likewise, showing love and respect to the family of the children in our home, regardless of what has happened in the past, has been crucial for us to build relationships with their children.  Although it always hurts when children leave and go home, as a parent, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing their parents succeed.

Each experience has been challenging yet amazing at the same time. Arbor Circle has guided us in developing strong, respectful and supportive relationships with birth parents and we’ve worked beside them as they’ve made positive progress and been reunited with their children. We’ve learned that we are not amazing parents (far from it) but we can provide young people with a stable and safe environment–though with our crowded home it can be a bit chaotic. But that is all part of the deal. Amidst a busier life, a more hectic schedule, a more cluttered house, we’ve found something wonderful in sharing our lives with foster kids and we are so glad that Arbor Circle has been there to guide us through it all.

Are you interested in getting involved with Foster Care? Please give us a call at 1-800-396-0241 or send our team an email at placement@arborcircle.org 

contact the child welfare team