By Dan Montgomery
It’s simple. EnCircle needs foster parents because children in Virginia need foster parents. It’s not the other way around.
And the greatest need is for the most-challenging cases: Sibling groups, teenagers, kids who have suffered trauma, and kids whose behaviors can be, to use the usual euphemism, challenging.
Taking in a child under those circumstances is not all triumphant hugs and heartfelt family chats, says Desiree Weldon, a longtime enCircle foster parent.
"Know that it’s not all roses, that you’re not going bring this child into your family and suddenly be one big happy family," Weldon says.
Foster parents Kevin and Alisa Kline would agree.
"You can’t go into foster care because you want a family," Alisa says. "You have to go into foster care because there is a need."
The challenges, in fact, are what make the work so important and rewarding. But overcoming the inevitable rough spots requires training, resilience, and dedicated partners at a social services agency like enCircle.
Most of all, it requires recognition that helping youth is what matters most.
Weldon has learned a lot while taking in 25 youth — almost all girls — in care over 17 years.
"I’ve learned that I need to ask permission," Weldon says. "Not every child wants your family. I ask, ‘Do you want a family, or do you want a bed? I can offer you a hot meal, a warm, comfortable bed, a roof over your head, conversation if you want conversation, or guidance if you want guidance. And if you want a family, I can offer you a family.'"
Fostering has been in Weldon’s blood since childhood.
"It’s something I always wanted to do," she says. "My best friend in junior high school was adopted, and prior to her adoption, she was in an orphanage."
Her friend’s experiences, including running away from that orphanage to Weldon’s grandmother’s house, left an impression.
"I felt if I could do anything in my lifetime to help a child grow — help them have a family, guide them in some way — I wanted to do it."
Weldon has no regrets.
"It hasn’t all been wonderful, but it gives me life just to help," she says. "I’m a helper, I’m a doer. I won’t stop helping children just because some things went wrong."
The Klines are relative newcomers compared to Weldon, but they’d been thinking about for fostering for years before taking the big first step.
"We started the process three years ago, but it’s been in our hearts for longer than that,” Alisa says.
“We weren’t on the same page at the same time," Kevin remembers, "but once we agreed to do it, we hit the ground running."
The Klines have fostered two youth since completing their training with enCircle.
"Fortunately, we had a good idea of what we were getting into," Kevin says. "Though you never truly know until you’re in the middle of it."
"The middle of it" is that combination of joys and struggles Weldon talked about.
"In the big picture, there’s lots of joy," Kevin says. "But in the nitty-gritty, it can be a struggle."
A worthwhile struggle, Alisa says: "We are doing this, in the big picture, not for us, but for the kids. So even when things are rough, we know we are providing the children stability and a loving family."
And that is enough to fill a very big need.
If you're interested in becoming a Treatment Foster Parent in the Richmond or Tidewater area, please contact us at fosterparent@enCircleAll.org.
Click here to learn more about our Treatment Foster Care Program.