© 2012 Idaho Press-Tribune

In the summer of 2008, Kevin and Diane Harper had just finished training to become foster parents, when they received the phone call about Kaylee.

Born three months premature and weighing 1 lb. 9 oz., Kaylee had spent her first days struggling to survive in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Her parents were young and involved in drugs, and the Idaho Department of Welfare was looking for a foster family to care for her until she could be reunited with her parents. Because Diane Harper was a nurse with neonatal experience, the Harpers were an excellent match.

About six months later, the Harpers decided to adopt Kaylee.

“We didn’t go into it thinking of adoption,” Kevin Harper explained. “The first goal of foster care is to reunify the child with the family. But little by little we could see it shifting.”

As the Harpers became attached to Kaylee, her parents realized they couldn’t care for her as well as they’d like to. They gave the Harpers their blessing to adopt Kaylee, who is now a healthy, happy 3-year-old.

Adoption

The Harpers, who live in Meridian with their four biological children and three adopted children, count Kaylee as their biggest success story as foster parents, and they want to get out the message that foster parenting can be an excellent option for people thinking about adoption.

The primary goal of the Department of Health and Welfare is to safely return foster kids to their parents or close relatives, but that doesn’t always happen. In some cases, the state decides a child is better off adopted by the foster parents.

Rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars for adoption through a private agency or a foreign country, prospective adoptive parents might consider the children in Idaho who need families

“This is a pathway to do a free adoption,” Kevin Harper said. “If you have a heart for helping these kids, take the time to do it. Fill out the paper work and go through the process.”

Opportunities

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is constantly seeking new foster parents. Adults of all ages, faiths and ethnicities are eligible. It doesn’t matter if they are single, married or in domestic partnerships.

“They need to be flexible, kind and empathetic. They need to have a heart for kids,” said Monique Layton, foster care licensing social worker for Health and Welfare.

The state especially needs foster parents willing to take in teenagers and siblings, Layton said.

While Layton warned that potential foster parents should not expect to have the opportunity to adopt children, that is often a possibility.

“We always stress that our intention is to help families get reunited. If that’s not possible, we look for permanency through guardianship, for a permanent place for the child,” she said.

Challenges

Nampa residents Ashley and Tammy Wightman have adopted three foster children, two boys, 5 and 8, and a girl, age 3. They also have a 2-year-old biological daughter and two teenage foster daughters.

They originally became foster parents because they wanted to get involved with charity work, and decided fostering would be the best way to help children. Now they couldn’t imagine life without their adopted kids or the 30 foster kids they’ve welcomed into their home.

“If you think of the tiny piece of your heart you’re giving, it goes to whole generations of kids. They’ll treat their own kids better, and that will pass to the grandkids,” Tammy Wightman said.

But the Wightmans also warn foster parenting is not easy.

“You need to get into it for the right reasons. You need to wrap your head around the whole thing,” Ashley Wightman said.

For one, they said, many of the children have emotional and behavioral problems. A foster parent has to be patient and understanding.

For another, it can be difficult to become attached to a child then watch them leave your family.

“After you pour your heart into them then you have to let them go,” Tammy Wightman said.

The Harpers agree there’s plenty of heartbreak in foster care. About a year ago, they became foster parents of an 8-month-old girl who had been abused and suffered from several broken bones.

“She didn’t smile and you had to be careful how you picked her up. She was in so much pain,” Diane Harper said.

After the girl’s bones healed and she learned to smile, the Harpers had to let her go. She had been adopted by another family.

“It’s an emotional rollercoaster. It really is,” she said, adding, “But it’s so rewarding to see the kids change. There’s such a need out there.”

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