Samuel and Marnie Bodapaty struggled to have more children after their daughter, Elise, was born seven years ago, and wanted a bigger family.
Dan and Cheryl Flick wanted one, too, but learned after three children that it might be hard to have a fourth.
Both couples turned to the Erie County foster care system because, despite their disappointments, they knew they had more love to give when it came to family.
“Right now, pretty much on a daily basis, we have five kids,” Cheryl Flick said. “They all get hugged and kissed in the morning and tucked in and hugged and kissed at night.”
The Bodapatys, both in their 40s, care for three foster children, each 18 months or younger, in their Amherst home. They are “pre-adoptive” foster parents, who pray that the birth parents of the children they have grown to love will one day be well enough to raise them on their own, but who will gladly step in if they are not.
The Flicks, who are in their late 30s, are simply foster parents. They believe their biological children, along with any child they bring into their home through foster care, will be more than enough to give them the family of their dreams.
Social services workers, painfully aware of the critical need for foster parents, are glad to have both families in their midst.
“There’s some great families who do some great things in this area – hundreds of families,” said Michelle Federowicz, director of foster care and permanency services with Gateway-Longview, one of the largest agencies to help with foster care placements in Western New York.
The agency estimates more than 100 foster children in Erie County alone need a temporary haven.
Gateway-Longview spent several months preparing the Bodapatys to bring foster children into their home, which is filled with books, toys and diapers.
The Flicks went through the process with Gustavus Adolphus Family Services, another of about 15 agencies in the region that handle such placements. Late last year, they added a foster girl, who turned 7 this week, into their family, and the girl’s brother, who turned 5 two weeks ago. Earlier this week, as Father’s Day approached, Dan Flick looked most forward to his foster daughter’s birthday party this weekend.
“They’ve come from a very different structure,” he said of the foster siblings. “Knowing where they were coming from and where they’re at, it will be really great to see the smiles on their faces.”
Both foster care couples, and Gateway-Longview administrators, said Father’s Day weekend is a great time for families to consider how they can support Western New York children in the greatest of need. Here are some tips they gave for those thinking they may want to become foster parents:
1. Understand your abilities
Gateway-Longview has foster parents who range in age from 21 into their 70s. “The most successful foster parents tend to be empty nesters and parents with younger kids,” said Kara Marong-Houlahan, the agency’s supervisor of homefinding. Empty nesters have learned the patience and flexibility required of good parenting, she said, while with families with young kids, “there’s more of an openness and willingness to learn.”
2. Love counts
“It starts with the basic, bare bones,” Marong-Houlahan said. “You have to have a strong desire to love and help kids. That’s not enough, but that’s a fantastic place to start.”
3. Preparation is key
Both couples lean on the experts at the agencies who trained them to become foster parents. “They have been through this many times,” Samuel Bodapaty said of Gateway-Longview. “They have given us every possible assistance.” More than 30 hours of mandatory training takes place over 10 weeks as part of foster parenting training. It involves role playing and scenarios designed to help foster parents act appropriately in many situations.
4. Test the waters
If you’re curious about foster parenting and want to learn more, go through the training, the foster parents advised. “Learn what it’s about,” Marnie Bodapaty said. “You may find that it’s not for you but on the other hand you may find it’s not what you thought. There’s so many unknowns, but our hearts really changed during the classes.”
The Flicks thought about foster parenting five years ago, but instead got involved with the Fresh Air Fund, a summer program that brings children on vacation from New York City to wide open parts of the state. “We wanted to see how our kids would react to a stranger coming to live with us,” said Cheryl Flick, who is now Fresh Air Fund rep for Western New York. The experience, and mom’s visits with another friend who is a foster parent, fueled the whole family’s interest in foster care.
5. Look on the bright side
“This is the most difficult and the most wonderful thing we’ve ever done at the same time,” Marnie Bodapaty said, “however, we’ve chosen to make it a wonderful and positive thing. Focus on why you’re doing this. You have to care about the kids, and you have to care about the birth families.”
6. Lean on others
That starts in the home, with biological children. The Bodapatys and Flicks beamed when they talked about how their biological children embraced their new roles. “I’ve really been humbled by how our children have adapted,” Dan Flick said. He and his wife sat down with their children – Bailey, 13; Isabella, 9; and Parker, 5 – several times during the process of deciding to become foster parents. “We let them know that these kids need us and we can make a really big impact in their lives,” he said. Both also have extended family and friends who have been extremely supportive, including a friend who gladly went through a background check so she can give the Flicks a break from all five of the children on a weekend overnight here or there.
“When we got the baby somewhat unexpectedly last week,” Marnie Bodapaty said earlier this week, “I had friends bringing dinner every night, dropping off bins of baby girl clothes. The outpouring of love and support is amazing.”
Other foster parents also become an unofficial support network, the Bodapatys said.
Bottom line, said Dan Flick, “You’ve got to have patience and realize kids are not cookie cutter – not biological kids, not foster kids.” There is no special key to unlock the best way to foster parent. Like all parenting, he said, “it’s just listening and loving.”
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