Building Bridges, Forming Relationships
November 2019 · Foster Family Features
Travis and Marie Clem received their first foster care placement just days before Thanksgiving, and they doubt they’ve had a full night’s sleep since. But that’s just fine with the Shady Point, Oklahoma, couple because they believe the blessings they’ve received through foster parenting more than make up for a few lost ZZZs. For the Clems, fostering is both a family and a community effort, as well as a Biblical mandate.
“Some people say, ‘I couldn’t do that because I couldn’t let them go,’” said Travis. “But I say, ‘Yes, you can. It’s going to hurt, but it’s supposed to. If it doesn’t, you’re not doing it right. God heals those wounds. God prepares our hearts and gives us closure.’”
Licensed in November 2017, Marie had already been thinking about fostering since the age of 19. She even considered becoming a social worker like her uncle, who eventually adopted five children out of foster care. Lately, Travis had also been thinking about helping children.
“We didn’t know that God had put it on both our hearts until one night when I came in from work and plopped down beside her. I said, ‘Honey, I need to talk to you. I think we’re supposed to foster.’ She said, ‘Yeah, I know. I’ve been waiting on you.’”
They remember well their first placement, a little boy. They received notification that their license had been approved at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. By 7 p.m., they learned of their first placement, and by 11:45 p.m., he was in their home.
“We were so excited,” said Marie. “When we got word of his placement, my daughter and I ran to Wal-Mart to buy stuff. We had a few items, but until you know what ages you’re getting, you don’t really know what you need. That first night, we didn’t get much sleep. That’s the way it is, though. No matter what child you receive, you don’t sleep much that first night because you worry about them.”
Twelve placements later, the Clems have become bridge builders, forming rich relationships with birth families, churches, and fellow foster families throughout Le Flore County.
“We love bridging with families,” said Marie. “That’s the first thing we ask when we get a phone call – “Are these kids going back home? Can we work with the families?” Watching a child move from sadness to joy, then go home to their mom and dad is the best thing about fostering. Lots of people think birth parents don’t deserve their kids, but that’s not right. Most birth parents just messed up. Usually, it has to do with addiction, but that’s a problem they can overcome with the right help. Some didn’t grow up in the best homes themselves, so they never learned how to parent correctly. It doesn’t mean they don’t deserve their kids. They just need someone to love them and show them how to be the parents they want to be.”
None of that happens in isolation. No matter how hard they work, or how much sleep they lose, Travis and Marie are quick to confirm that even the best foster family can’t help children and families as effectively as a community in collaboration. That’s why Marie also serves as the CarePortal coordinator for Le Flore County. Managed by the Department of Human Services, the CarePortal connects churches with foster and biological families in need of items or services. If, for instance, a family needs clothing, beds, a high chair, or even help building a porch, then a request is sent to participating churches who then respond with the needed items – often within minutes.
Recognizing that foster families deal with a unique set of issues and situations, the Clems have also formed a support group for area foster families. About 40 adults and children gather monthly at their church for connection, fellowship, and advice.
“We provide a full meal, and several women from church come in to take care of the kids,” said Marie. “We usually discuss a single topic that addresses something someone is going through. We don’t plan it beforehand; God just gives us a topic. It’s amazing.”
Marie also organizes activities for foster families, all of which has made her an unofficial ambassador of sorts for foster care. She’s one of the best recruiters Saint Francis Ministries has in southeastern Oklahoma, regularly encouraging friends and neighbors in person and through social media to consider foster parenthood.
“People contact me about foster care all the time through Facebook,” she said. “Now several have started receiving their own placements. Every chance I get, if someone opens that door, I’m going to tell them I’m a foster parent. Most people in this community know that about me.”
For Marie, Travis, and their children, fostering is a package deal, involving far more than simply welcoming a child into their home. By approaching it relationally, they’ve received rewards they never imagined.
“It’s made us closer as a family,” said Travis. “We’ve grown to rely on each more, just to get through the stressful times. I see us our biological children developing a heart for this and how they’ve changed since we started. Every child we’ve fostered has been different, too, with their own trials and successes. We’ve also been surprised by how much the community has stepped up to support us. We really believe God’s got something special going on here. So, we just pray for a little extra sleep, and continue on.”