.- When visiting their Brighton, Colo. home, Francis Huiras was quick to point out the “little guy” in recent family photos prominently displayed in the living room.
“He’s a little honey,” added wife Tracy.
The little guy they’re referring to is 3-year-old Matthew (not his real name), a child placed with them for 4 months through Catholic Charities’ foster care program—a program they have been affiliated with since 1998.
Francis and Tracy—along with their two adopted children, Adriana and Logan, both 12—opened their home to this vulnerable little boy when contacted by longtime friend Sister Michael Delores Allegri, S.C.L., another foster parent with Catholic Charities.
Including Matthew in a family photo was just one way they could help him feel included; to let him know that he is loved.
“We want him to see that he is part of our family whenever he wants to be,” said Francis who spent time in foster care himself as a child, as his father struggled with alcoholism, then his mother suffered from mental illness.
“My father … wasn’t around mostly,” Francis shared. “(My mother) did the best she could … but she never did get back to her old self.”
His experience was significantly different than the care he and Tracy aim to deliver.
“(Foster care) wasn’t that great of an experience for me, so I always felt like we could have children and do better than the way I was treated,” he said. “I always felt odd, I guess. I knew I was different, and they made sure I felt that way.”
He did not want Matthew to feel the isolation he felt.
“That’s exactly a situation I could’ve been in when I was a kid,” he said. “They would’ve taken their family picture and I wouldn’t have been included. That would ‘leave a mark.’”
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. There were nearly 9,000 children in the foster care system in Colorado according September 2003 figures. Most children are placed in temporary foster care due to parental abuse or neglect.
“Children are placed into foster care at no choice of their own—they’re scared and traumatized,” said Melissa Maile, director of child welfare services for Catholic Charities. “Imagine being in their shoes and think about what you would need at that point in time to feel better.”
Enter foster families.
“(They’re) courageous, generous, kind and patient families,” Maile said. “They’re very special folks who put these children’s needs above their own to help children feel comfortable, cared for and supported during a very difficult process—for however long they are in their home.”
Catholic Charities has 13 families certified for foster care, and 10 more in the process. They have about 18 children in the program, from newborn to 18 years old.
“We get referrals every day that we have to turn down,” she said. “These are referrals of real children who can’t remain with their biological families due to safety concerns. They need and deserve to be cared for, loved and supported until a more permanent plan is determined.”
Reunification with family is the goal for foster care, though it is not always possible. Colorado statistics showed 58 percent of children that left the system in 2003 were unified with birth parents or primary caregivers. Of children adopted through state agencies, 58 percent were adopted by non-relative foster parents and 31 percent by relatives.
The Huiras’ first foster child was a 4-year-old girl that lived with them from 1998 through 2001. She was ultimately reunified with her grandparents.
“We would’ve adopted (her),” Francis said. “That was a hard struggle when they came to us and said the grandparents were interested in taking her. But it was my decision that she go with the grandparents—because no matter how bad my home life was, I still would’ve rather gone home.”
At 16, she still lives with her grandparents and is doing well.
When Tracy is asked how she does it; how she “lets them go,” she responds: “How can you not help them if they need a home? How can you turn them away?”
In early 2002, 2-year-old Adriana came to live with Francis and Tracy—a situation they believed would be temporary. At the same time they were considering adopting Logan, another foster child, also 2.
“I always felt like we should adopt rather than have our own, then I guess by the grace of God, he wouldn’t let us have our own anyway,” Francis said.
The same week the county approved Logan’s adoption; Adriana’s mother surrendered her parental rights.
“So, we had two!” said Tracy with a laugh. “They’re only six months apart—it’s very much like having twins.”
She can’t imagine life any differently.
“To me now, it’s like they’ve never been anywhere else,” she said.
Catholic Charities has two full-time staff members and a part-time therapist to support foster families. They provide training, respite care for children when full-time foster parents need a break, support groups and other resources.
“If you have ever considered foster care, that seed has been planted in your heart for whatever reason,” Maile said. “Explore, educate, ask questions and talk to other families … even if you’re not ready yet, it’s important to spread the word that children in Colorado need help.”
Printed with permission from the Denver Catholic Register.