Featured Foster Family: Mary Kay and Tom

Meet Family Works Foster Parents Mary Kay and Tom. They live in the Appleton area and have been doing foster care for 25 years! They have been with Family Works for the last seven years.

Getting started

Mary Kay and Tom considered fostering all those years ago because a friend’s nephew needed a place to stay. It turned out that the arrangement didn’t work and they took a break. A few years later Mary Kay was working as a case manager in a group home, and she met a young man who made her reconsider fostering. This young man was violent and aggressive and no placement options could be found. However, Mary Kay looked at him and saw potential and thought someone needs to give him a “another try”. With time, work and patience she saw this young man develop into the “nicest kid who was elected to prom court”. Mary Kay and Tom became motivated to look at fostering again and their first official foster placement would be this young man’s sister.

Creating a mission statement

This same young man and their own life experiences taught Mary Kay and Tom that they had a vision and mission to their work. They realized they believe in recovery and that people can change. They view foster care as an opportunity for a child to learn a different life than the history and trauma the youth brought with them. Their fostering approach is shaped by trauma informed care, accountability and empowerment. Mary Kay shares, “You have to be able to see beyond the (child’s) behavior. They come with heavy baggage. We need to lighten their package.” They find this is done with the right environment and consistency.

Dividing tasks/finding balance

Mary Kay and Tom also learned that they were most successful as foster parents and as a couple when they found “balance” in their practice. It works best to divide up their tasks. Mary Kay says she stays at home to keep the fires burning and sets up all of the medical and therapy appointments. Tom loves being on the road, so he does all of the transporting to visits, work shifts, and medical appointments. Tom jokes that he is Labor and Mary Kay is Management. They also value family time and couple time. They enjoy swimming, attending local fairs and events, and going out to dinner.

Departing wisdom

After 25 years of fostering Mary Kay and Tom have learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t in fostering.

Here are some of their nuggets of wisdom:

*You can’t save every child. Just as their first foster placement didn’t work out just as planned- not every child will be the right fit for you.

* Be good to yourself. Your needs are important- don’t stretch yourself too thin. Use respite (take breaks from caregiving).

*Try not to personalize things- it’s not all about you. Separate yourself from a child’s behaviors or actions while maintaining compassion.

*Don’t give up too easily- think of it as a long haul thing. I like to tell kids you aren’t going anywhere so let’s figure it out.

*Keep your sense of humor. I tell kids, “I know you are angry with me but someday you will love me in a special way. It’s okay that it’s not right now.”

*Work hard at helping foster kids find their niche; something they can succeed at and develop recreational skills. When you encourage their sense of recreation you don’t have to be the entertainment director.

*Help youth in choosing good friends/peers. I tell my children, “You are known by the company you keep.”

*Help children find insight, give them power and healthy control.

Thanks to Mary Kay and Tom for 25 years as foster parents and for sharing their humor, wisdom and insights!

Learn more about fostering and if it’s the right choice for you by visiting our website at https://www.family-works.com/

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