On any given day, about 300 kids in Michigan are looking for a foster parent. If they’re lucky, they’ll find one like Elaine VanLeeuwen of Portage. Elaine fostered nearly 500 children during a span of 52 years. Yes, 500. Now in her 80s, she no longer takes in new foster children. But many of “her kids” stay in touch and visit, sometimes bringing their own children and grandchildren with them.
She and her late husband, Alan, worked as a team. They had four children of their own and their youngest was four when the first foster child, a newborn arrived. “I tell everyone that my own children grew up in foster care – and they really did,” she says with a smile.
Elaine has received well-deserved awards her for her unfailing support and unquestioned love for children. Framed letters of praise and certificates of recognition from presidents and governors cover a wall in her house. It was well-deserved praise. “When a child needed to be placed, Elaine was there,” says Krista Ploski, foster care licensing supervisor for Family & Children Services. “If another foster parent needed a break, Elaine was there. She even became a mentor to other foster parents. We wish we had more foster parents just like her.”
Family & Children Services fields four to five requests daily from county departments of health & human services and private agencies throughout Michigan seeking to place children in foster homes. New foster parents are really needed in Calhoun, Kalamazoo and St. Joseph counties.
Krista and her teams in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, recruit, license, and train foster parents. They then place children with those parents and work with them to ensure a safe, nurturing experience for all.
Meanwhile, other Family & Children Services staffers coach biological parents on their parenting skills and supervise meetings between biological parents and children at the agency’s Family Center in Kalamazoo, which has welcoming family-friendly spaces inside and outside, including a picnic and playground area. What makes a good foster parent?
According to Krista, working adults and retirees make good foster parents, as do singles and married couples. “Patience, flexibility, and a heart for children are key,” she says. “You should be able to commit to challenges, have a strong desire to make a difference in children’s lives, and be dedicated to a child’s reunification with biological parents.”
Foster mother extraordinaire Elaine VanLeeuwen adds one more ingredient to her recipe for success. “I guess it was my love for all these people and the kids.” Learn more about becoming a foster parent at www.fcsource.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.