Meet Kristi and Matt, a foster family in the Eau Claire region. When the family isn’t busy keeping up with their adopted, biological and foster children, they enjoy spending time at their lake house and taking road trips across the United States.
You’ll find with foster families that “family” is an always expanding definition. Often many paths have to cross and converge to bring people together. The journey to becoming a family is often filled with many highs and lows. Kristi and Matt know the importance of supporting sibling relationships and each other.
Their story begins with one woman and a calling.
In 2002, Kristi saw an ad in a newspaper sharing the need for foster parents. At that time of her life, she was a single person, and she knew she was ready to parent. She knew she enjoyed her job as a teacher and working with children. Fostering was a way to begin her parenting journey. She responded to the newspaper ad and the adventure began.
Kristi’s family expanded when a young girl came to her home. This young girl had 3 other siblings who were separated through foster care. Kristi’s heart broke to hear these siblings were apart from one another, and she began to do what she does best, bring a family together.
Two of the siblings were adopted, and the other sister was in another foster home. Kristi began to advocate for the sisters to be placed together. After working tirelessly with the guardian ad litem (a lawyer who advocates for the best interests of children), she was able to get the sisters placed together and eventually adopted into her family.
Kristi met her first husband in 2005 and the family expanded again. The following year, she was a principal and teaching at a small school when another child came to her school. As she got to know the child, Kristi discovered the child had several other siblings in foster care.
So again, she asked the question, “How can we keep this family together?”
It wasn’t long before two more siblings moved in and then joined her family officially through adoption. Afterwards, she took a break from foster care. In foster care, it’s not uncommon for families to take time off when children leave their home. It’s even encouraged for families to make sure they have the time and space to care for themselves.
The family underwent a great deal of change as they integrated the children into one cohesive family. This time was made more difficult when Kristi’s first husband passed away.
As time went on and healing happened, Kristi met Matt. They were certainly a match made for each other as they both were previously foster parents! Kristi and Matt got married. Each brought their own children to the marriage, and their family grew again. While their family was bustling and busy, their journey with foster care was not over.
Kristi knew another child who had entered foster care and felt the tug again. Not one to hesitate, Kristi came home that night and told Matt they were going to be fostering once again. Fortunately, Matt had that previous experience as a foster parent and was ready to dive back into fostering. From there, their fostering fun began again!
In 2016, Kristi and Matt joined the Family Works network of foster parents. Their partnership as parents continues to be invaluable to the children in their care. Together, they have 7 adopted and biological children. They continue to welcome children into their home and the expanding hasn’t stopped. Soon they’ll be welcoming the first grandchild into the family as well!
Steadfast in trying times
Kristi and Matt are consistent and persistent parents to the children in their home. Kristi works full-time as a special education teacher for youth from kindergarten through 21. She’s no stranger to the hard work of investing in children and creating the structure to help youth thrive. Kristi shares that there have been people who have doubted her children over the years, but she has continued to advocate for their success.
Matt is a patient and grounding parenting counterpart. He’s especially great at giving Kristi perspective when she gets overwhelmed. He helps her keep a level head. Sometimes, this support is as simple and powerful as the reminder to “take a deep breath and walk away.”
Partnering with parents
Using a trauma-informed lens applies to more than just children in the home. While Matt and Kristi parent their foster youth, they also develop a partnership with the biological parents of their children. This approach involves ensuring children are having regular contact and communication with their parents. It also means partnering with parents in stressful moments when the parents aren’t happy.
Kristi shared that considering a biological parent’s perspective can go a long way in developing empathy through those challenging moments. No parent wants to see their child removed from their care and trying to understand this perspective is key in relationship building.
Matt also is famously known for his ability to plan epic road trips. The family travels each summer to a new location. Favorite stops have included Banff National Park in Canada, the Gulf Shores of Alabama and Clearwater Beach, Florida.
The adventures have created grand stories and memories including passing through the World’s Largest Rodeo on the way to Banff and taking a wrong turn in NYC and missing the Statue of Liberty. When they aren’t sightseeing, the family enjoys spending time at their lake home in Cumberland. They fill their time with fishing, pontooning, skiing and snowmobiling.
Family Works understands the importance of the dedicated work Matt and Kristi are doing. Their Family Works social worker had these words to stay about Matt and Kristi:
“Kristi is a special education teacher, who has a passion for children. She values education and works hard to ensure children are meeting their educational targets. She has adopted two sibling groups in the past, and is dedicated to keeping siblings together. Kristi is very trauma informed and resourceful. She is a strong advocate for children and works well with systems in order to meet their overall needs.
Matt takes a more hands-off approach to working with systems, but is very hands-on with children in the home. He enjoys spending time with children placed in the home, from teaching them new things, to doing crafts. Matt is an avid outdoorsman (hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and camping) and shares these experiences with children in their care.”
The rewards of foster parenting
Kristi considers one of the most rewarding parts of foster care to be the progress youth make over time. Successes come in all shapes and sizes. It’s the teenager who graduates from high school, the child who is able to grow leaps and bounds in their reading scores, the siblings who are reunited. It’s an adult child who worked so hard to find their career path, a teenager who’s about to become an Eagle Scout. Each moment is another victory for youth, and Kristi and Matt are able to attest to how hard their children work for each of these successes.
Although they’ve been parenting for many years, Kristi admits they are always growing and learning. Their parenting style changes to help each child reach their full potential.
As they navigate these challenges, she and Matt are not alone. The family shares:
“If we ever have an issue, we have support. We enjoy the monthly meetings and networking with other families. But, I can’t say enough about how supportive the social workers are.”
Kristi is a fierce advocate for foster care and has even helped bring more families to Family Works over her 5 years with the organization. She’s more than willing to share about her experiences as she recognizes it’s one of the most important ways to help others decide if this path is for them.
While she’s always looking for more families to join in this work, she also readily gives this advice:
“This isn’t for everyone, if you want to go down this journey, you need to be compassionate. The kids need it.”
At Family Works, we agree foster care might not be the right fit for every family, but if you have a compassionate heart and a willingness to grow with children, reach out to our social workers. We’d love to talk with you today!
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