Our ultimate goal is to help put families back together
February 2020 · Foster Family Features
Kristi Fry knows firsthand what a good, safe home means to a child, especially to a child separated from her parents. Just 10 years old when her mother and father passed, Kristi was adopted by a family that took her in and raised her as their own. It made all the difference in her life. Her own loss opened an empathetic space in her heart for children like herself, alone and struggling to make sense of their experience.
“I’ve always wanted to help kids,” she said. “I got my degree in clinical psychology and therapy and worked for about two years as a therapist for children in foster care. Eventually, I realized that 45-minute therapy sessions didn’t allow me to help those kids in the ways I wanted.”
Even before their marriage, Kristi and Michael had discussed foster care and adoption. With the subject already in the air, the decision to become foster parents seemed almost inevitable.
“It’s always been on my heart, so it was a pretty easy conversation when it finally happened,” said Michael. “I suggested we start with emergency and respite care, but as it turned out, we jumped right in with long-term placements.”
Almost immediately, the Manhattan, Kansas, couple found themselves caring for two young brothers, ages three and six. With no children of their own, the young couple had to learn fast. They jumped right in with potty training and teaching how to tie shoes.
“Those first boys definitely taught us how to be parents and how to navigate the foster care system,” said Kristi. “They still hold a special place in our heart.”
The boys left after 13 months to join an adoptive family, and Kristi and Michael remain in touch with them. Two years later, the Fry home is filled with young people: three girls, ages 16, 17, and 18, a brother and sister ages six and eight, and an 18-month-old boy.
Like old pros, they’ve learned how to quickly transition from dressing boys to tying bows and trying on dresses for girls. Most importantly, they’ve built lasting relationships with several birth parents. They way they see it, providing support, encouragement, guidance, and even friendship to birth parents is just as important for the well-being of the children in their care as is food and shelter.
One particular case is especially meaningful for the couple. Working closely with the mother of two little girls, they were able to help the family reunite and begin to heal.
“Throughout the process, we worked hard to make sure the mother knew she had someone on her side,” said Kristi. “We told her over and over, ‘you’ve got this.’ Now that she has her children back, we still babysit and help her deal with behavioral issues like tantrums fits. It’s gratifying now to see her care for her children with confidence.”
“Building relationships with birth parents is important because we’re not about collecting children,” added Michael. “We’re about bringing families back together. By bonding with birth parents, we can help stop generational cycles and support parents so they can in turn support their children.”
Yet, often for one reason or another, some families can never reunite. In those circumstances, children need something entirely different. They need someone willing to step up and choose to be part of that child’s life forever. Such is the case with the 18-month-old boy in the Fry home. Kristi and Michael have cared for him for nearly a year and a half. Recently, the court severed parental rights, and the couple hopes to adopt him. Again, Kristi’s own experience as an adoptive child give her a unique perspective about both adoption and foster care.
“Mine’s a little different because my parents passed away,” she said. “Whereas, some of these parents are still working to regain their relationship with their kids, mine were unable to. Still, I understand what it’s like to miss a parent. I know what it’s like to know that your parent is never coming to visit. That’s why we make sure to let these kids know that there will always be a permanent place for them, whether it’s back with their parents or in our home.”
“I think that’s what kids need most,” noted Michael. “They need to have someone stable in their life and to know that they’re loved. We can guarantee that in this house they will have a warm bed and food on the table. We will be open with them about their case and make sure they know that we’re also on their parents’ side.”
“Our ultimate goal is to help put families back together, not tear them apart,” said Kristi. “We tell them, ‘we’re going to help your mom be the best mom she can be because then she’ll be the best mom for you.’ Kids need to know that.”