- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2016

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) - A Jeffersonville couple has undertaken the life-changing commitment to help children in need by opening their home and their hearts to them.

Chris Fox, a real estate broker who also serves on the Jeffersonville Board of Zoning Appeals and Ohio River Greenway Commission, and his partner Nick Lawrence, a mortgage loan officer, have recently been approved as foster parents and welcomed their first child through Family Ark Services.

“We had been talking about it for the past year,” Fox said. “We’re pretty fortunate where we are in life and we were looking for an opportunity to kind of give back. And we started doing research on the whole foster care system and how kids really need a second chance, someone to love them and care for them. Because they come from a lot of different backgrounds.”

The couple’s goal is to adopt, but for now, they are willing to do all they can as foster parents to help give some children a safe place to stay when they need it.

“This is our first (placement,)” Fox said. “If the opportunity presents itself to adopt, we’ll definitely consider that and right now our main focus is taking care of these kids and helping give them a home.”

They started exploring their options around nine months ago. They had approached other agencies, but they weren’t the right fit. When they met with Family Ark, they knew it was the right place.

One of the most important parts, Fox said, is ensuring that the agencies and parents are on the same page and understand one another’s goals.

“For us, being a gay couple, life is a little more challenging because everybody doesn’t have the same goals we do,” he said.

“We wanted to find an agency that we felt like were part of our family. When we met with (Family Ark representatives) and went through what Family Ark’s mission was, we felt like that was the place for us. When we walked through the door, we felt like family and that’s how they treated us the entire process.”

He said they weren’t sure what to expect, and had some fear and uncertainty of not only the application process but the placement itself, caring for a child. But the organization made sure they were equipped with as many resources as possible to be successful parents.

They went through the application process - background checks, other checks and had initial and continuing training to make sure they were ready.

“Education is a huge thing for me but that’s what helps the process,” Fox said. “I was like ‘What are we going to do, we don’t know anything about any of these kids, we haven’t had kids in our house, how do we (childproof) our house for what’s going to happen down the road?’”

After getting licensed from the state, it was a waiting game to see when a child might be in need of their care. They didn’t know when it might happen, and since they had specified they could take children of various ages, they didn’t know what to expect.

“We didn’t know what age (child) we were going to get,” Lawrence said. “So we were like ‘Do we prepare for a baby? Do we prepare for a 6-year-old?’ There weren’t any specific things we could do.”

But much like the adage, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ the community rallied around the couple and kicked in their support.

Though they had been keeping the situation somewhat low-key initially, the excited potential parents made a simple social media post after being accepted. Fox is on the Homeowners’ Association board in their neighborhood and when they came home one day, were surprised to find a driveway full of all kinds of things for children of all ages: toys, beds, books, clothes - just about anything they might need to help multiple children.

They have set everything up and now have two rooms in their home dedicated to different-aged children - one for smaller children, toddlers and infants, the other complete with books, bunkbeds and things appropriate for older children. That way, they are prepared when the next call to help comes.

“I can’t thank them enough,” Fox said. “Our neighbors just really came together.”

Fox said he wants to stress just how important considering being a foster or adoptive parent can be in the life of a child who needs help.

“I thought it was so important to talk about the foster process. A helping hand here and there is life-changing for some of these kids,” he said.

He thought the application process was going to be much different than what they found it to be.

“I thought, ‘There’s probably a lot of red tape; we’re probably not going to get approved because of our situation,’” he said. “And what happens if we don’t? How do we move forward?

“And I had so many people come out to me and say ‘It’s going to be fine.’ I think that’s the biggest thing that people don’t know. The process is not terrible, it’s not terrifying and there are so many families that need help, whether it’s a short-term stay or a longer-term stay.”

Sarah Berry, director of licensing at Family Ark, said the numbers of children coming into the system has increased dramatically over the past few years in Indiana, especially among children 4 years old and younger.

“And that is very directly tied to our substance abuse epidemic that’s going on right now,” she said.

“Those are the kids that are coming into care because the parents need to focus on getting themselves better, getting that treatment. So it’s great to have parents who are able to take care of the kids while the biological parents are able to do that work they need to do to someday hopefully reunite.”

Fox and Lawrence know that with Indiana’s high reunification rate, they may have to one day say goodbye to the child they are currently fostering, or future ones. They are working to prepare for that tough and emotional possibility, and other parents through Family Ark who have experienced that can help serve as peer support.

“You may foster this kid for nine months and then you get a phone call that says we’re going to reunify this kid with their biological family and you have to be OK with a that decision at that point,” Fox said.

“It’s exciting that they get to go back to their family, for the child, but that’s one part of your family that’s kind of disappeared.”

But in the end, all the two want is what is best for the child, whatever that may be.

“There are kids right in this neighborhood that don’t have a safe home to go to. They don’t have someone that’s going to sit there and help them with their homework. They don’t have someone that’s going to give them the attention they need,” Fox said.

“There’s a big ‘why’ in this world, why am I here, what’s my purpose, and when I sit down and think about it, my biggest why is to give back. This is an excellent opportunity for us to give back to our local community and help kids that need help right now.”


Source: News and Tribune, https://bit.ly/2fixpBS


Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., https://www.newsandtribune.com

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