When it comes to providing support for youth in her care, Kristen Otis has lived experience and adaptability to inform her choices as much as her foster parent training.
Kristen entered out-of-home care as a teen and aged out of the system – she and her wife, Amy, frequently accept placements of teens, who often have a more challenging time finding placements than younger children. Kristen was separated from her sibling while in care; the couple decided early not to separate sibling groups, event when that meant accepting a group of three on a waiver when they were initially licensed to care for two children back in 2015. Amy’s medical background allows them to care for children with unique needs and communicate those necessary skills to parents. And no matter how long it takes, permanency remains the goal for the children in her care.
“We really, really believe in co-parenting and reunification and getting kids home when it’s safe to do so,” Kristen says. “We try to have parents over and to give baths,” making safety agreements with families during the height of COVID-19 to maintain connections. Setting positive examples through these interactions, she says, is especially helpful for families overwhelmed by the experience or a child’s special needs to stay hopeful and motivated.
“Keeping parents involved and letting them know ‘we are trying to get your kids back to you’ – that matters,” Kristen says.
Now several years into their roles as foster parents, Kristen and Amy are currently caring for eight children and have supported more than 300 kids and teens – typically only taking sibling groups, expanding their license and adding bedrooms onto their home to be able to do so.
While she says she hasn’t been too surprised by anything thrown her way as a foster parent, Kristen says she does still see some of the same misconceptions about the system of care that she’d like to see dispelled – that foster parents are doing it for the money, for one. “There’s no money if you’re doing it right,” she laughs.
Another myth that needs busting, from her perspective: “That foster kids are scary. They’re scared, not scary,” Kristen says. Same for fostering, with a caveat: “People think it’s scary – it is a little scary. But it’s worth it,” she says. “It’s amazing how you can affect the trajectory of somebody’s future just by stepping into that small gap.”
See how you can make a difference as a foster parent with Family Support Services.