TORRINGTON – It takes a strong family to open its arms and doors so another group of individuals might flourish as one.
Torrington residents Russ and Kendal Richards first became a foster family 10 years ago. It was a decision that changed their lives forever.
“Somebody from our church worked at the Department of Family Services and said there was a little girl who needed to go into a home with all girls,” Kendal said. “We had three daughters at the time.”
Beginning with the one girl a decade ago, the Richards family has invited six foster children into their homes over the last 10 years. With ages ranging from infant to mid-teens, Kendal said the experience was challenging, but very rewarding.
“You just really have to have a strong family base and plenty of individual strength,” she said. “It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, because you’re not raising your kids, you’re raising someone else’s kids. They may have someone else’s values and beliefs.
“You have to honor their values and beliefs, and remember (the child) is not yours and they will go back (to their family),” Kendal said. “And you have to plan on that whether it happens or not.”
Kendal admitted she has become very attached to foster children in the past, and returning the children to their families can be extremely difficult.
“We treat the children as our own as long as we have them. More often than not, they go home,” she said. “But that’s (DFS’s) job – reunification and to make those families stronger and better.
“All in all, it’s very rewarding,” Kendal said. “The memories are awesome. Sometimes (the children) do come back and reconnect.”
Kendal is not currently an active participant in the foster care program, but her family’s experience did result in more than just memories.
“The oldest foster child we took in was 16, and we adopted her,” she said. “She was a young mother who had a baby, so we became grandparents, too.”
Kendal currently stays busy by watching her grandchildren – who continue to increase in number.
“We have six with one on the way,” she said.
Overall, Kendal very much enjoyed her time as a foster mom.
“I feel like foster care is a calling. If you don’t feel it, you shouldn’t do it,” she said. “You really just want to help children.”
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. Dianne Feeler, of DFS in Torrington, said additional foster families are always needed in Goshen County.
“We’re always accepting applications for foster families,” Feeler said. “Foster families are important for these children to have a sense of security and safety. Our goal is always to reunite these kids with their families – foster care does more than foster kids, it fosters families.”
For more information, call DFS at (307) 532-2191.