Helping out kids, a mom and a community
Special to the Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles about Eagle County’s foster care program.
When Sergio Sandoval’s wife, Elvia, approached him about taking on the responsibility of another child, his initial response was, “Let’s think about it.” With their own family of three daughters nearly grown, he was hesitant to take on the challenge of raising young children again.
Then a caseworker telephoned, seeking placement of two young brothers who had been removed from their home because of a domestic violence situation. A shortage of local foster homes in Eagle County meant the kids would have to go all the way to Delta for foster care – a wrenching 170 miles from their friends, family and home. Sergio and Elvia readily opened up their hearts and their Gypsum home. The children were moved in immediately.
“We did it for the mom and the kids. It basically comes down to we think we need to help the community a little bit,” said Sergio, a 30-year resident of the valley.
The boys, bright-eyed, friendly and curious, settled into the Sandoval home quickly. On a recent weekday afternoon, they bounced smiling into the house after school ended. After a brief conversation with the Sandovals in both Spanish and English, they scampered to their room to play.
Keeping siblings together
When the boys were first placed with the Sandovals, they were a little scared. Then they settled in.
“We made them feel at home. They realize they are in a good place,” Sergio said.
The children have been living with the Sandovals for about four months. Meanwhile, social workers and therapists are working with the boys’ birth mother to develop her parenting skills. She visits with the children several times a week.
“The boys needed a stable family while the mother worked on her issues. Having a positive male role model was good for the boys. You can see how much of a difference it makes,” said caseworker Darlene Montano, of Eagle County Health and Human Services.
The fact that the Sandovals are bilingual was also a plus. Previous placement in an English-only foster care home left social workers concerned that the younger boy was losing his Spanish, making communication with his mother difficult.
Like any set of brothers, the boys fight a little, play a lot and run around.
“I think they fit in pretty good,” Elvia said. “We just wanted to help.”
Social workers generally prefer keeping siblings together when they are removed from the parental home because it lessens the trauma.
“Placing sibling groups together is important. We are already separating them from their parents, other family, friends and, sometimes, their school,” Montano said. “To separate them from each other is further trauma.”
Montano said the Sandovals agreed to be foster parents before they learned that the program includes some financial reimbursement. Medical and dental coverage for the foster children is provided through Medicaid or private insurance sources.
“You do it for the kids. You don’t do it for the money,” said Sergio, noting that some expenses exceed the stipend.
As required for foster care certification, he and Elvia attended classes in parenting, CPR and first aid. Initially, Sergio wondered why parents who have raised three kids need such classes.
“We learned a lot. They would be great classes for anybody to take,” Sergio said.
In fact, he said becoming foster parents would be a valuable experience for people who are considering starting a family. He would like to see more families in the community open up their homes to children in need.
Montano said there is a common misperception that a social worker’s job is to take kids away from families.
“It is about keeping children safe. We try to give parents the skills to keep the family together,” she said. “It is just not that simple. It is hard work.”
While the children are being cared for by the Sandovals, their mother also is working toward getting a place of her own. The courts will determine when the boys will return to their birth mother’s home. Regardless of that future decision, both the Sandovals and the birth mother have expressed a desire to maintain the relationships that have been established with the kids.
“After four months, it’s really going to be hard for all of us when they go home,” Sergio said.
Becoming a foster parent in Colorado is a straightforward process. Steps to certification:
1. Attend foster care program orientation.
2. Complete and submit an application.
3. Attend foster parent training classes sponsored by the county, state or private child placement agencies.
4. Participate in comprehensive foster family assessment.
For information about becoming part of Eagle County’s foster care network, contact Patricia Dirkson at Eagle County Health and Human Services, 970-328-8840, or visit the county website at http://www.eaglecounty.us.