This photo essay is part of “We Are the Change,” a series telling the stories of local causes. View all the “We Are the Change” essays.
As a clinical social worker and former preschool teacher, I have had a lot of contact with families who foster children. I’ve heard many stories of children who are neglected or abused by their biological parents, of moms and dads involved in drug use, criminal behavior or violence.
It’s easy to think of kids going to foster care as sad stories, but what we don’t often hear about are the incredible new homes many foster children find themselves in. I recently found three such foster families where the children are accepted with the warmest embraces, both literally and figuratively.
These families don’t go it alone — several local organizations provide them with support and advice. The Marion Polk Foster Parent Association (MPFPA) was created by foster parents and arranges educational workshops, training sessions, recreational opportunities for connecting with other families, and advocacy for their needs. The association partners with many businesses and organizations to provide important resources that help foster families stretch their budgets to cover things like backpacks, camps, graduation photos, recreation, clothing and more.
The association works closely with Alicia Kueny, a foster parent recruiter and retention specialist in the Department of Human Services, Child Welfare office. She offers many of the services used by MPFPA while working to find new foster families in Marion County and supporting them in their challenging work.
Thanks to the dedication of these organizations, many families find ongoing support and encouragement to help them fulfill some of their foster children’s greatest needs — for love, for stability, for a home.
Learn about Foster Parenting
Marion Polk Foster Parent Association: Kimberly Moore, president, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.marionpolkfpa.org
Department of Human Services Foster Care & Adoption: Alicia Kueny, email@example.com; www.marionfosteroradopt.com
Gil Nicholson-Nelson has worked with foster families for more than 30 years. He started doing photography in a closet with an enlarger repaired with papier-mâché. The Salem Photo League has given his art a new documentary focus.
Craig and Tracy Slaughter’s seven children initiated the idea of becoming a foster family as a way to give back to the community. Craig and Tracy listened respectfully, and eventually did apply to become foster parents. They liked the idea, but they assumed that with five of their own children still living at home, their house was too full.
But DHS Child Welfare recognized what Craig, Tracy and their kids had to offer, and began placing foster children with them in February 2012. The family first cared for twin girls for nearly a year, then, after only a two-week break, accepted 1-year-old Rie-Lynn and her 2-year-old half-sister, Kiah, into their home. Rie-Lynn eventually headed back to her father, but Kiah’s younger half-brother, Dravin, joined the Slaughter family when he was born.
I visited the Slaughter home during dinner — typically a routine time — but what I observed was both routine and extraordinary. Seven children squeezed around the table with Craig and Tracy. The mealtime was marked by laughter, warmth and a lot of attention to the youngest ones’ needs. After the meal, no one even mentioned clean up; everyone automatically started removing plates from the table, loading the dishwasher and packing up leftovers.
It was obvious that the respect the Slaughters initially showed their own children has carried over seamlessly to their newer family members. Since I visited, Kiah and Dravin have gone on to live with a new permanent family, and the Slaughters are looking forward to inviting more foster children into their home.
Juan and Maria Campos started out fostering 3-year-old Joshua when he was born and decided to adopt him when he was unable to be returned to his parents. Meanwhile, Joshua’s mother had two more boys.
Maria was adamant that the siblings not be separated, which is also the goal of DHS Child Welfare. So the other boys — Carlos, 1 1/2, and Jaime, 6 months — also came to the Campos’ home.
The Campos family plans to adopt all three children. They keep in touch with the boys’ relatives and arrange regular visits with cousins and grandparents. As Maria said, in Spanish, “Fostering children is a beautiful way to prepare for adoption.”
Three and a half years ago, Thom and Mandy Augsburger chose to foster teen boys, and they have no regrets. Only one of their five biological children — Max, now 16 — was still living at home. They first opened their doors to Dyaundre, now 11, who they eventually adopted. He had been in foster care for most of his life.
Now they have five children in their home again. Joining Max and Dyaundre are Zack, 16; Aaron, 18; and Jeremy, 15, who just joined the family in early September.
The Augsburgers are amazingly calm as a whirlwind of teen energy rises around them. Dyaundre and Zack are a bit rambunctious but seem to respect the limits without more than a subtle look from Mandy or Thom. Aaron just turned 18 but has chosen to stay in the home for another year until he feels ready to be on his own.