Today is May 31, National Foster Parent Appreciation Day and CHAMPS is happy to shine the light on an amazing foster parent: Ellen from Virginia

A teacher of young children with special needs, Ellen noticed a rope burn on the neck of a four-year-old in her classroom.  His mother had tried to conceal the injury with a collared shirt. Ellen, in Florida then, reported the injury to social services. There was no foster care placement available. The state was critically short of foster parents.  Ellen decided she had to step up.

She has since fostered 11 kids in three states. Four of the five placements were sibling groups of two to four children. Once, Ellen and her husband, Tim,* fostered four siblings, adding to their child adopted from foster care. That made five children total, four in diapers, with Ellen and her husband working full-time outside the home. The challenges were well worth keeping the siblings together. The oldest, a seven-year-old, especially needed stability. For picture day at school, Ellen made sure the girl had a new outfit and paid for the school photos, feeling the little girl should have the same experience of any kid, regardless of foster care.

A separate sibling pair came to Ellen and her husband at 15 months and 27 months old.  Their birth mother was open to foster care. She had six children and realized foster care for her youngest two might help her prepare to take them back. Her openness helped Ellen and Tim exchange information about the children’s needs – a favorite blanket, a bedtime routine.  Eventually, the parents shared the children, three nights at one home, three nights at another.

Ultimately, the birth mother was able to take the children, now seven and eight years old, back in her care.  She sends Ellen friendly texts. Ellen and Tim were surprised to learn they’re emergency medical contacts for the children, but they’re happy to help.

A sickly three-month-old baby came to the couple. Sam* had a respiratory disorder, pertussis and pink eye.  He’d been given solid food – mashed potatoes – too early. His birth mother didn’t trust the child welfare system and didn’t sign up for help that would have provided baby formula. He didn’t hear well because of frequent ear infections.

Ellen and Tim adopted Sam at 2.5 years old.  It wasn’t an easy process. Ellen had to testify in court with the birth mother and father watching. The birth mother was worried about having her child taken away. The birth father tried to get custody but wasn’t equipped to care for a child. Ultimately, the birth mother trusted Ellen and Tim. “She came around to us but she never came around to the system,” Ellen said. After the birth mother voluntarily gave up her custody rights, the women hugged, sobbing.

Outside groups have provided tremendous support. Community Attention Foster Families offers monthly support groups or in-service training, monthly home visits and help with transportation and medical appointments. “They came to court with us and even sat with us at the hospital during surgery!” Ellen said. NewFound Families hosts conferences with seminars for the adults and camp for the kids.

As Sam grew, he recovered from his early illnesses. His hearing improved through treatment. It was clear he could hear well when he perked up as a motorcycle went by. He recently was diagnosed with ADHD.  Ellen and Tim will continue to watch his needs carefully. Ellen said her background in early education helps, while Tim has practical knowledge, like CPR.

That combination has helped Sam grow into a happy, funny, curious five-year-old who loves to report on “amazing” developments, like getting ice cream with Grandma. “He makes me laugh every day,” Ellen said.

*Names changed to protect the child’s identity.

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