Two decades in, and this foster parent is still ‘getting through it’
November 2022 · Forward in Hope, Foster Care / Adoption, Ministry News
There’s the family you were born into and the family you choose. John Arellano, JP, has both. One of Saint Francis Ministries’ longest serving foster parents, he’s built his family by becoming family to many of the 175 boys he’s fostered since 1999. And he’s done it as a single parent, most recently by working full-time as a truant officer for the Garden City, Kansas, school district and at his local YMCA.
“I started fostering because I wanted to adopt,” says JP. “But after I adopted my son, Derick, I kept doing foster care. Over the years, I’ve taken lots of boys with behavioral issues … It just kind of happened. If a child’s been through several foster homes and hasn’t been successful, a caseworker will ask my worker, ‘Do you think JP will take this on?’ All I can say is ‘Well, I can give it a try. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll try something else.’ Usually it works out, though. There have been a few times when I thought I just couldn’t take it anymore because a child was too challenging. But then something happens, and he does a 180 and starts settling in. It might take a few months, but we get through it.”
“Getting through it” is how JP approaches most parenting challenges. That fortitude he learned early on, growing up in a large family accustomed to opening their home to those who needed a place to land for a while.
“Our house was always open to friends, cousins, or anyone needing help,” he says. “My parents were always there for people. Eventually, one of my sisters and her husband started doing foster care. Then, I started, and after another sister moved to Garden City, she started. A third sister then got licensed so she would provide respite care for the rest of us. The kids I foster need structure, and since she’s familiar with our routine, she’ll come to my house and help out.”
That structure is essential to JP’s success as a foster parent. Since children in foster care often come from chaotic environments, structure provides a sense of reliability and safety. This is especially true for young people with behavioral challenges.
“Kids in foster care can get a bad rap,” he says. “They come from places where they don’t have many rules, so when they first arrive and we go out to eat or something, they can be loud or have bad manners. But that changes with structure. People come up to me all the time and say, ‘Your kids are all so well-mannered.’ It’s nice to hear that. Of course, they also ask, ‘What are you doing with all these kids? Where’s the mother?’
For more than 20 years, JP has been both father and mother to the boys in his care. He’s fostered infants, just a couple days old, as well as teens. Derick came at the age of three, and JP adopted him at five.
“He had fetal alcohol syndrome, so he needed lots of structure,” says JP. “At first, I didn’t think I would be able to handle him. He had his moments, but he was a good kid. Now, he’s 25 and recently moved out on his own. He works full-time and also carries a part-time job on evenings and weekends.”
Yet even those boys he hasn’t formally adopted remain family members after leaving his house. One of the biggest rewards of fostering for JP is the relationships he maintains with former placements, and it’s not uncommon for them to approach him out in public and say hi. It makes sense, of course, considering that every boy who passes through his door is welcomed as a fully-fledged member of the home. Over the years, he’s taken the boys with him on vacation and to events with his extended family. He’s even “informally” adopted one and now that man’s 10-year-old son calls JP “Grandpa.” Amadeus came into JP’s home at the age of 15, and because his birth family lives in California, JP became their family – as they became his.
Those enduring connections, along with witnessing lives transformed, have a lot to do with why JP is Saint Francis’ longest serving foster parent.
“It’s fulfilling to watch a young life turn around and start to flourish,” he says. “I’ll be sitting a restaurant, and someone will come up to me and say, ‘JP? Do you remember me? I was in your home for a while and had a good time. You really made me feel welcome.’ It’s nice to hear that. It’s nice to know that they’re doing well now, despite all the things they had to go through.”