Foster parents: 'A lot of fear' but 'a lot of reward' in giving kids a home

Foster parents: 'A lot of fear' but 'a lot of reward' in giving kids a home

CHAMPAIGN — A couple of years ago, Nicki Roelfs had a client who was having an awful day.

"She had called the Department of Children and Family Services on a friend," said Roelfs, a Champaign County probation officer for 18 years.

The woman was distraught at the friend's neglect of her 2-year-old child. And she shared that with Roelfs, whose own daughter was 2 at the time.

Talking it over with her husband, a Champaign County sheriff's deputy for 23 years, they were ready to call the DCFS investigator and tell that person they would take in the child.

"Of course, it doesn't work that way, but it put us on the path to licensing," said Nicki Roelfs.

Two years and two foster babies later, the Roelfs want to adopt the boy who is now living with them, and they want others to know the rewards of being foster parents.

"I always thought I might do this," said Nicki Roelfs, who worked as a day care provider for children for more than 20 years, a job that overlapped with her work in probation.

"Dwayne was not so sure. When you work in law enforcement, you only see the worst," she said of her husband's initial reluctance.

Dwayne Roelfs said having a zealous, child-loving spouse helped win him over.

After becoming licensed, the couple took in a girl for three months who was ultimately sent to live with a friend of her biological family.

"When you take in a foster child, DCFS generally does not promote adoption, but they do ask if you can provide permanency," Nicki Roelfs said. "Of course, we say yes."

The possibility that the child may move on is a fact of life for foster parents.

"You love them for as long as God is going to let you," Nicki Roelfs observed. "If they end up getting to stay, it's a nice benefit, too."

Through her work as a foster parent, Nicki Roelfs got involved with Let It Be Us, an organization that promotes the adoption of foster-care children.

That group is holding a local workshop from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday for anyone interested in researching adopting a foster child. It will be held at CU Christian Church, 602 W. Church St., C.

Representatives of three local foster agencies will be present: DCFS, the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, and Lutheran Social Services. Also present will be a representative of Baby Fold, which offers support before and after adoption.

Champaign attorney Ellyn Bullock, whose practice includes handling adoptions and is an adoptive mother herself, will be the keynote speaker.

The event is free, and a light breakfast of bagels, fruit and coffee will be served. Parents with children may bring them. The church is planning activities to keep them occupied.

Unlike private adoptions, which can be quite costly, there is no cost for adopting a child from foster care. Foster parents receive a stipend from the state of Illinois to care for the children they foster.

As for the Roelfses, they want to adopt the foster son who has been with them about a year.

He spent his first several weeks in neonatal intensive care, followed by six weeks of tender loving care by Dwayne, who took paternity leave to be with him. Nicki had just gotten a work promotion that made it hard for her to take time off then.

Dwayne admits he wasn't sure what he was getting into, but so far, their foster son is doing well.

"He is healthy. He's come a long way," Dwayne said.

Nicki Roelfs said she understands that people fear the unknown.

"Both my kids came with some issues, but I think they're perfect. I do think that people think they've had a rough life. What if I get too attached? What if they take them away? I've taken care of those babies and the outcome so far has been fantastic," she said.

The couple said they felt compelled to live their faith.

"From the Bible, it's clear we are called to do this. For us, that's what it was. We wanted to put action to our beliefs," Dwayne said.

"There's a lot of fear that prevents people. But with fear, there's a lot of reward sometime," he said.