Erika and Brent Thompson cannot imagine a life that doesn't include being foster parents. The Thompsons, along with their daughters Baily (12) and Esperanza (10), have brought 9 children all under the age of 10 into their home since they began fostering 2 years ago, and four additional children for respite care.
Erika and Brent's interest in fostering children began when they were considering adoption. After they researched the topic and met with a Family Advocate at Children's Home Society of Washington (CHSW), they started to think that foster care might be a good option because they could not only help one - but many children.
The Thompsons worked with CHSW for their foster care licensing, which included parenting classes, CPR training, and a home study, where a social worker visits your home and deems it a safe, fit place for children. In July of 2008, the Thompsons welcomed their first child into their home.
Through Erika's work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), she has firsthand knowledge of the overwhelming need for foster parents in Pierce and King County. In April alone, there were 129 children in Pierce County that were removed from their homes and required foster care placements. This is up significantly from the 30-40 children that, on average, need homes every month.
While there is no such thing as a "typical" foster parent, Erika is quick to say that in order to be one, you need to have patience and flexibility, and above all, be committed to the child. "These kids have only seen stress," Erika says. "Give them a childhood every child deserves. You don't need to be a Disneyland family, but you need to provide for these kids beyond just basic needs."
"Fostering brings out the best in our family. We become better parents."
Erika has been active in spreading the word to family, friends, fellow soccer moms, even customers at line at Target, sharing her family's personal journey into foster parenting and touting the rewards to both the child and the foster family. Erika's passionate efforts at recruitment have resulted in a friend's adoption of a boy she and her husband fostered, as well as other friends becoming licensed foster parents.
While it must be noted that becoming a foster parent is a big change to family life and is a decision that should not be made lightly, Erika wishes more parents were interested. To people who say they could never do this because they would get too attached to the child, Erika responds, " I get attached, but we're adults! You live with their memory. You just do it. It's worth it to look back and say that I've changed the lives of all these kids."
Fostering children has become a full family affair. Erika and Brent's daughters pitch in to help with the kids. They carry with them a sense of pride for what their family is doing, and boast to their friends about their foster brother or sisters. Through fostering, Baily and Essy have learned about human compassion, sharing, and unconditional love...lessons that most parents can only speak about to their children. For a school assignment, 10-year old Essy was asked to write about her dreams. When other children wrote about winning the lottery, Essy's dream was simple – "I dream of being a good foster parent."
The Thompsons recently moved to a large house in Puyallup to accommodate their growing family. The house has 6 bedrooms, a large backyard with a basketball hoop, and an open living space on the main floor perfect for keeping tabs on the children in their care. This May, Erika and the girls are traveling to Florida while Brent takes a fishing trip. When they return, they plan on bringing two more children into their home.
"Fostering brings out the best in our family," states Erika. "We become better parents. I think nothing of having 4-5 kids around the house. People always tell us 'you're amazing!' but it's really the children that are amazing - and how much they give back to our family."
Learn more about what's involved with becoming a foster parent. In Wenatchee, call (509) 663-0034; in the Seattle-Tacoma Metro area, call (206) 388-5868.