Prospective York County foster parents hear advice, anxieties from those who've been there before
Tori Uhler didn't beat around the bush: When Jeff and Angela Uhler adopted her, it wasn't all butterflies and rainbows — the process at times made her very anxious.
"I was afraid they were gonna give me up like all the rest" of her previous foster parents, the 14-year-old said.
The 10-or-so people sitting around a long table Saturday afternoon at the Diakon Adoption & Foster Care offices at 836 S. George St. had the same goal: to eventually provide homes to children in the foster system.
As part of their 24 hours of training to get the original OK from the organization to house foster kids or adopt them, the group had gathered to hear the Uhler family speak. Jeff and Angela Uhler adopted Tori, now 14, in August 2014.
The three of them, as well as the couple's 9-year-old biological daughter, Grace, fielded questions about how the process had gone and what it had been like for each of them.
Panel: Any advice for prospective foster parents, asked one of the audience members.
"Patience," said Jeff, an engineer. "I'm not a patient person," but he had to learn to be.
"It's not going to be a perfect ride, but it's really all worth it," Jeff said.
Angela agreed. It's a process, and not always an easy one, she said.
"We had our ups and downs," said Angela, a nurse manager at York Hospital.
The audience wanted Tori to answer the question, too.
"Just make them feel at home," she said. And make it clear what the expectations for behavior are from the start.
Someone asked Tori how many schools she's attended, and she couldn't answer right away — she had to think about it so she didn't forget any. Tori paused, quietly mumbling the school names as she tallied them off on her fingers.
"Eight," the eighth-grader eventually decided.
How many foster families? Again, she counted on her fingers, and again there were too many for the digits on one pink-and-blue-nailed hand.
"Six," she said.
Diakon: Diakon is working with about 32 kids at any given point in York County, and there are more than 2,500 children in the foster care and adoption system statewide, said Karen King, the organization's permanency supervisor.
The nonprofit organization focuses mostly on older kids, such as Tori, King said. The goal of pretty much all foster-care situations is to find the child a permanent home.
For many kids, the foster system is meant to provide a temporary home, with the "ultimate goal" being reuniting with one or both parents or some other close family member. But for other kids who for one reason or another are never going to be able to return to family, the goal is to match them up with someone who will adopt them or at least become their legal guardian.
This doesn't just apply to little kids, King said — older teens can benefit strongly from becoming part of a family. After all, she said, there are plenty of times after you turn 18 when being able to call up a parent is an immeasurable help.
King, who herself has had foster kids and was the legal guardian of two girls in the system, said she herself likes dealing with older kids; she said it can be helpful to have kids old enough to be able to have a conversation about what their relationships to each other are.
The adult Uhlers seemed to have found the same. Recalling some of the original lessons they'd learned in the training to become foster parents, they had left the decision of what to call them up to Tori.
"I just started calling them 'Mom' and 'Dad' right away," she said.
She quickly started using those familial kinds of names, but the changes weren't limited to other people.
"Now people don't call me 'Tori,'" she said. "They're like, 'Ulher!'"
— Reach Sean Cotter at firstname.lastname@example.org.