The size of Brian and Tina Rondeau's still-in-the-nest family jumped from three members to six in a single day's time. Where before only they and their 10-year-old son lived together under the same roof, now their place also is filled with the laughter of three pre-school age youngsters.
The couple had long contemplated becoming foster parents, and in July 2012, they made it official by completing the necessary licensing requirements and gaining approval from the Alcona/Alpena/Montmorency Department of Human Services. Both say now, if they'd known how rewarding the foster parenting experience would be, they would have taken action much sooner.
"It took us a long time to go from our first thoughts of being foster parents to actually taking the steps," said Brian Rondeau.
News Photo by Diane Speer
Foster parents Tina and Brian Rondeau, seated, look over program materials with Marci Sample, a foster care licensing worker with Alcona/Alpena/Montmorency Department of Human Services. The couple encourages others to consider becoming foster parents.
Thanks to their adult daughter, a while back the couple got to know a young man who through no fault of his own had been raised in the foster care system most of his life and at age 21, still didn't have a sense of a "forever family." The Rondeaus embraced him and shared a sense of warmth and love. Getting to know him helped to solidify their decision to become foster parents.
"We knew that's where God was leading us," Brian Rondeau said. "People that need help seem to be all around us. This allows us to physically serve God and our community. It allows us to physically do something rather than just saying I should or I could."
With May recognized nationally as Foster Care Month, DHS foster care licensing worker Marci Sample hopes to put the spotlight on the need for more families like the Rondeaus. She said the need is great in all three local counties served, but particularly in Alcona County where there are currently no foster families willing to take in children.
"We have only nine homes in Alpena County, three in Montmorency and zero in Alcona," Sample said. "There currently are about 100 children in foster care. If we don't have enough homes here, we have to place them in other homes throughout the state."
Placement outside of the area often creates logistical challenges for the biological parents, the foster parents and those working with the families and children involved.
"Reunification is the goal," Sample said. "If you have foster families in the local area, it will help facilitate the parenting time and the reunification process versus having to go outside the county."
To help highlight the need for more foster care parents and increase awareness of the foster care program, several activities have been planned this month starting today with a Blue Ribbon Campaign. From 3:30-5 p.m., blue ribbons will be hung from the branches of trees on the Alpena County Circuit Court lawn. This is part of a national Blue Ribbon Campaign presented by the National Foster Parent Association.
Other planned activities include a community forum on foster care awareness set for May 20 from 6-8 p.m. at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and an invitation to local churches to engage in a That First Night campaign to provide clothing and other items foster children may need for their first, often traumatic night in foster care.
For the Rondeaus, their experience as foster parents has helped to dispel misconceptions they believe many hold.
"Some of the misconceptions are that kids come into foster care because they are delinquent children," Tina Rondeau said. "They don't realize they're abused or neglected children and that a high percentage have no behavioral problems at all. Not all children in foster care have the severe emotional issues seen on television shows."
Before they followed through with their intentions to become foster parents, the Rondeaus sat down with their 10-year-old son and made sure he would be okay with the decision. They said it has been wonderful to see the three children they have taken in now laughing every day and having a good time together in their home.
The two realize they will only have the children in their home for about a year. Nevertheless, they are determined to love them for however long they have them, and then willingly let them go to return to their own family when the time is deemed right.
"You know in the beginning that you are not going to keep them. That's part of the training," Brian Rondeau said. "Reunification is the goal. It's not about us or our feelings. We're adults. We're able to handle our feelings."
The couple also said that being supportive of the biological parents is a big key.
"People deserve second chances," Tina Rondeau said. "You can't go against the parents. They need love and support just like their children do."
One aspect about foster care that surprised the couple was the financial stipend they receive from DHS. When they first agreed to become foster parents, neither of them realized they would receive any monetary assistance to help with clothing, food and transportation costs for the three children in their care.
They also didn't know that as foster parents they would be able to specify what gender and age group of children they believed would work best in their home.
"This makes it so it is not something that will stress your family unit," Tina Rondeau said.
Anyone who might be interested in becoming a foster parent may call the DHS office at 354-7200 and ask to speak to a foster care licensing worker.