For the Jensens, life as foster parents is hectic but rewarding.
Dan and Connie Jensen of Algonquin had been discussing fostering children since their own kids – now 21, 19 and 17 – were little. When someone spoke about it at a church event Connie attended, they decided the time was right.
That was six years ago. Since then, they’ve fostered toddlers and teenagers. Some move on after three weeks. Others have stayed as long as four years. Two weeks ago, they welcomed a pair of sisters, ages 3 and 4.
“It’s been a little bit of a revolving door,” Dan Jensen said.
May is National Foster Care Month, aimed at bringing awareness to the more than 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States.
In Illinois, the Department of Child and Family Services takes protective custody of about 4,400 children a year, according to DCFS spokesman Dave Clarkin, with about 30 of those from McHenry County. Children are placed as close to their original homes as possible so as to not disrupt their daily lives.
Despite the often tough transition period of each new child, the Jensens say they feel called to remain a temporary foster home, rather than seek adoption of children unable to return to their biological parents.
It’s a difficult decision, but the Jensens fill a need always in demand. Agencies that place foster children are constantly recruiting foster parents who will provide a nurturing, positive environment while staying focused on the end goal – to, if possible, return a child to his or her original home.
“Sometimes they end up not moving back home,” said Jennifer Amdur Spitz, spokeswoman for One Hope United, a national human service organization whose Chicago branch places foster children in McHenry County. “But the goal is always to reunite them together.”
All circumstances are different, but the abuse and neglect many foster children have experienced can make for a difficult transition into a new home with different ways of operating.
The Jensens have found that the older the children, the longer they take to acclimate. The sisters who recently arrived are the first children the family has fostered in a year and a half.
“When we decide and say yes, it’s a family decision,” Connie Jensen said. “Everybody’s vote is taken into consideration.”
Foster parents aren’t generally given a complete history of the child, but they often quickly learn their backgrounds.
“Their past is definitely significant because the way they behave is based on those experiences,” Connie Jensen said. “We need to understand, just in general ... so we can parent them better.”
Mark and Kate Detwiler of Woodstock became foster parents after they spent time as a “safe family,” a short-term arrangement for children whose future is uncertain but have been taken out of a current living situation.
It wasn’t long before the Detwilers became foster parents. After earning their license, a little boy in their safe home was court-ordered into foster care, Kate Detwiler said.
The boy – now 4 – stayed with the Detwilers. When his half-sister was born about a year and a half ago, the family visited her at the hospital and by that evening, the newborn was in their care too, Detwiler said.
“That was quite honestly one of the most unusual days, probably of our life,” Detwiler said.
The Detwilers have fallen in love with the two additions to their family, who join a household with three biological children, ages 14, 13 and 11. In January, they found out they can adopt the boy, and hope to file for adoption by the end of the year for his half-sister.
“That’s a very happy outcome for those children, isn’t it?” Amdur Spitz said after hearing of the family’s circumstances and decision.
“If people are in it for adoption, there are other ways to go,” she said. “If they’re interested in fostering, and open to adoption, that’s really the best of both worlds.”
Dan and Connie Jensen can’t say what the future holds for their newest foster children. But they approach each foster child with the belief that the time they spend with them will create a lasting impact.
“It has been at times very hard to let kids go to another home. You get very attached and really have a connection after a long time with certain children,” Dan Jensen said. “We’re here to build them up and give them strength and love and positivity so they can move forward.”