May is Foster Care Awareness Month and many children won’t be able to see their moms this Sunday for Mother’s Day due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Foster families are doing what they can, including Elbow Lake foster family Katelyn and Connor Grytdahl, who are taking care of four siblings between the ages of 2 and 10, alongside their own 7-month-old and 2-year-old.
Katelyn was inspired to become a foster parent by her own mom, Jackie Wandersee. “My three little sisters started out in foster care and then my parents adopted them,” she says. “I love kids in general, but after seeing that with my little sisters and then continuing to watch my parents do foster care over the last six years, really kind of showed me that it’s something I really wanted to do as a family as well.”
Wandersee frequently talked about wanting to become a foster parent as Katelyn was growing up and finally became one six years ago in Clara City. Wandersee, who has taken in around 40 children over those six years and is currently taking care of a child in respite along with her three young daughters, said, “When I was younger, like in elementary school, there were some kids on our bus that were in foster care, and at that point I got the information in my head about it, and then as I got older it has just always been something that just stayed with me and that I wanted to do to help kids out. That’s what planted the seed and got me started with it.”
Katelyn got her license to foster at the beginning of last month and Wandersee has been proud to see her follow in her footsteps. “They were kind of raised with it, when they were younger they would always tell kids, ‘Oh if you need something, my mom will always help you out,’ and I always got a kick out of that, they they thought that their friends could always come to us, because that’s just how our family was,” she says. “We were there to help others and serve others, and I think they just followed in those footsteps, so I’m very proud of them for doing that.”
Wandersee’s son and daughter-in-law were also foster parents while they lived in Wyoming, but a recent move to Illinois means they’ll have to get reestablished. Currently, her other daughter’s house is too small to foster children, but she hopes to join her siblings in becoming a foster parent soon, too.
Jodi Raidt, statewide program manager for the LSS Therapeutic Foster Care Program, says foster families play a critical role in the lives of children who have to go through difficult times. “Our foster families are really the key to mitigating the challenges that the children are experiencing and helping to build resilience. They are critical to meeting the needs of children and families during a really difficult time in their lives,” she says.
With COVID-19, families have had to step up even more now, and face additional challenges. “We have children who are home doing distance learning so our families are stepping up to provide that education support and oftentimes there aren’t those extracurricular activities or structured activities and service and support, as well, that the kids normally would have, whether it’s in the community or at home,” Raidt says.
Wandersee said that, instead of giving children time to transition back to their parents, they’ve had to go directly back without an adjustment period. “We’re having to have to do all the visitations via Zoom instead of letting kids see their parents, which was hard on the kids that were at our house because they did that for almost six weeks,” she says.
Katelyn has been helping her kids with distance learning and now, with Mother’s Day on the horizon, is trying to think of ways to celebrate despite the restrictions. “I’ve been trying to decide what kind of project to do with the kids to give to their mom when they go back home,” she says. “We’ll probably end up taking a picture and sending it so that she can see it on Mother’s Day, but unfortunately with no face to face contact, it’ll be kind of difficult to get it to her, but we’ll still do a project and send her a picture of what it looks like and then put it away until they get to bring it to her in person.”
Raidt says now is a great time for people to look into becoming foster families. “Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions and learn about it, because we really do have a need for foster families. And it’s the perfect time with May being National Foster Care Month and Mother’s Day,” she says. Last year, more than 9,300 children and young adults were in Minnesota’s foster care system.
It can take 3-4 months to become licensed and it’s an intensive process involving paperwork, a background check, home inspection, interviews and training. “We try to make sure we prepare those families as much as possible for what they can expect and how they can best meet the needs of the kiddos,” says Raidt.
Katelyn and Wandersee have found their calling in fostering children. “We definitely find it fulfilling and we were extremely blessed to have such a great group of kids as our first placement,” Katelyn says.