The 2016 Oklahoma State of the State Address focused partially on the need for Oklahoma foster homes. Governor Mary Fallin announced her support of the Oklahoma Fosters program and introduced her guests for the day, Chris and Brian Seimens, and two of their sons, Kyle and Alex. Chris is an active member of the Child Protection Coalition through her employer, the Parent Child Center of Tulsa.
Child Protection Coalition staff sat down with Chris to ask about her experience on February 1st at the Capitol and about her life as a foster parent. Here’s what we learned:
- When and how were you notified that you would be the guest of honor at the 2016 Oklahoma State of the State Address?
I met Tom Bates, the Governor’s appointee to the Pinnacle Plan, and Ashley Hahn, who is overseeing the Oklahoma Fosters campaign, on Thursday, January 7th, 2016. They were in Tulsa meeting with employees and partners of the Safe Babies Court Team, at The Parent Child Center of Tulsa. We spoke briefly about my experience as a foster parent, the challenges I face but also the great things I sense moving forward particularly with the new Safe Babies Court Team. The following Monday, January 11th, 2016, Ashley contacted me to invite me and my family to be the Governor’s guest at her State of the State speech to represent Oklahoma’s foster families and her Oklahoma Fosters campaign.
- How did you tell your family?
I immediately called my husband after hanging up the phone with Ashley. Partly in disbelief, partly in tears from excitement, and in total shock. Neither one of us could wrap our brains around the invite, it was completely unexpected and such an honor. The next phone call was to my mom, then to my Executive Director at The Parent Child Center of Tulsa, Desiree Doherty. We were all so excited about the opportunity!
- How did the kids respond?
I told my older boys (ages 14 and 15) later that evening. They were excited about not only missing school for the day, but also getting to witness and be a part of something that not everyone gets an opportunity to do.
- When did you first become a foster parent and why did you make that decision?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to adopt children. I never felt the need to give birth to my own children and knew there were children who needed homes. I felt a stronger pull toward helping those children than giving birth to my own. When I was diagnosed with cancer in my early 20’s and found out I wasn’t able to carry a child, I just knew it had always been the plan for me to adopt. Little did I know at that time, it would include me getting heavily involved in the foster care system.
I had a good friend who was a foster parent and taught the foster parent training classes. She convinced us to talk to an OKDHS worker about foster care and attend the classes. We were immediately sold on the idea of providing a temporary home to a child in need, and it felt like something I NEEDED to do. Our first placement moved in with us in March, 2001. He was three days old.
- How many kids have you fostered and adopted over the years?
My first foster son lived with us for six months before he was reunified with his biological mother. I haven’t had contact with him since, however, we have had some “sightings” of him and he appears to be doing well. During his stay with us, we also had my son, Kyle, who is now 15 years old. Kyle was four months old when he moved in with us. Then, Alex came to live with us at four months of age and he is now 14 years old. Both Kyle and Alex, who are not biological brothers, were adopted around their second birthdays. I went through some changes in my life, put fostering on hold for a while and began again in 2012. Our son, Jay, moved in at age three and a half months and he is now three and a half years old. His adoption was final after his third birthday. We had a foster daughter, Baby L, for about 20 days. She was three months old. We currently have two foster sons, ages two and a half years, and the other is five months old.
- What do you like best about fostering?
We often get asked “why do you foster”? Our response is typically “Why not? Because we can”. We have a home and the space. We are beyond blessed to be able to provide a temporary, safe home to a child in need and to give him/her a little glimmer of hope needed to recover from whatever trauma he/she experienced. We have learned so much about the children, their families, and the importance of building healthy connections among all parties involved.
- What advice do you have for folks thinking about fostering?
When people first learn that we’re a foster family, most of the time we hear “Oh, I could never do that. I would get too attached”. My thoughts are “Yes. Yes you would”. But that is the whole point. These children need to feel some sense of safe and healthy attachment with a loving caregiver. Does it hurt when the children leave the home? Absolutely. Do I feel like crying for days on end? You bet. But, the pain and hurt I feel when a child leaves is nothing compared to the pain and hurt that child felt prior to entering custody. I will heal. The child may not.
- What advice do you have for fellow foster parents?
We are all in this to help the children and their healing process. One of the best role models and examples a foster parent can be to the child is acknowledging the biological family and approach the case as a team. In most all of our cases (when we were able), we worked closely with the biological family and their relationship with the child. We supervise visits, coordinate overnights, invite the biological families to our home, meet them for dinner, etc. It is critical for the child to see a positive relationship being built between the foster family and the biological family.
- How do you balance working full time while raising kids and being a foster parent?
Thankfully, we have a wonderful support system and employers. Our family and friends help out when they are able, and both of our employers are family friendly.
- Tell us a little about what you do for the Parent Child Center of Tulsa.
I am the Community Education and Outreach Services Program Manager for The Parent Child Center of Tulsa. I manage the Kids on the Block puppet program. I also oversee the curricula our nurses present to mom’s of newborns in the hospital stressing the importance of talking, reading, and singing to their baby and the prevention of shaken baby syndrome. I promote and advocate the importance of child abuse prevention in the community by presenting to and attending various community meetings and coalitions.
It is no secret that Oklahoma is in need of foster families. We not only need families to step up and foster children, we need the RIGHT families to do so. It isn’t easy. Navigating “the system” can be confusing and stressful at times. Working with the children who have been exposed to multiple traumas can be exhausting. Families need to be prepared and know what to expect, as well as have their resources and a wonderful support system ready, before answering the call to foster.
If a family isn’t able to provide a home to a child, there are other ways to help. Be a mentor, offer to babysit, make a meal for a foster family, donate items to the Resource Center, James Mission, or to particular foster families, help with Christmas for Kids, contact DHS to assist with transporting children for visits, etc. There are numerous ways to become involved. The children are worth it. By no fault of their own, are they being asked to deal with something much bigger than they could ever ask for…being taken away from the only family they’ve ever known and sometimes placed in a complete strangers home.
Congratulations to Chris and her family for being recognized and honored by Governor Fallin! Thank you for all you do for our community!
To learn how you can become a foster parent, visit the Oklahoma Fosters website today.
Photo: The Siemens Family – Alex, Jay (top), Brian, Chris, and Kyle