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Fargo couple one year into emotional journey of being foster parents

They share the realities of fostering on an Instagram account @fosteringtheunknown

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Crystal and Jeff Knight became licensed foster parents in May 2021 and have been on an emotional journey ever since.
Photo courtesy of Kensie Wallner Photography
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Nearly one year ago, Jeff and Crystal Knight shared a very special announcement on social media. The Facebook post included a professional photo of the smiling couple with a major announcement about their family:

They were becoming foster parents.

The Knights say that they deliberately shared their big news like many do pregnancy announcements, because for them, this is their baby announcement. “We wanted to treat it with just as much as excitement,” Crystal said. “We want to normalize foster care and normalize the process and fear and pain and excitement and love.”

As with most foster parents, their journey – though still brief – has certainly been filled with all of those emotions.

And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Finding their happily ever after

Jeff and Crystal met online but quickly discovered their circle of friends overlapped quite a bit. They were delighted to find out they shared similar interests in the arts, and Crystal even noted that Jeff was wearing a “Support Local Art” shirt in his online profile picture, and she happened to be wearing hers the night she saw Jeff’s profile. The pair clicked immediately, but with Crystal having two children from a previous marriage, she wanted to make sure her relationship with Jeff was serious before introducing him to her daughter and son.

For Jeff, he assumed that the older he got before settling down, the less likely he would be to have a family of his own. But then Crystal, Olivia and Adrian came along. “I just fell in love with her and the kids; it sparked something in me that I wanted to be a part of,” he shared.

Jeff and Crystal married on Sept. 14, 2019, with Olivia, now 12, serving as her mom’s maid of honor and Adrian, now 9, acting as Jeff’s best man.

Now that they had become a family, Jeff and Crystal debated whether to add a child of their own to the mix. While Crystal felt like she wasn’t done with the early stages a new baby brings and Jeff recognized that he missed out on all of those stages with Olivia and Adrian, the couple decided not to have a child together.

“I just want to mother everyone,” Crystal shared. “I felt like I wasn’t done, and I happened to be talking to a friend of ours who fosters, and she told me foster parents are so needed.” She and Jeff talked about what becoming foster parents would involve, and they initially decided to become licensed so they could take on emergency placements (as opposed to long-term placements) and offer respite care for other foster families for a short duration.

But fate had other plans.

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Jeff and Crystal Knight are shown with Olivia, 12, and Adrian, 9, as well as the little boy they fostered for 8 months who was recently reunited with his mother. He was their first long-term placement after they became licensed foster parents in May 2021.
Photo courtesy of Olivia Alnes Photography

A sudden change

Just weeks after Jeff and Crystal made their big announcement on social media, they agreed to provide respite care for an 8-month-old and a 2-year-old over Memorial Day weekend, and they were all excited about the new experience.

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Then they received a call that a 14-month-old boy was in emergency care but needed a longer-term placement within days, so for one day, the Knight household expanded from four people to seven, with three of them under the age of 2.

“It was chaos,” Jeff remembered, as Crystal chimed in, “That was a lot.”

But it was short-lived because the other two children returned to their foster family, and the little boy remained with the Knight family, who had been gifted many necessary baby items from friends and family who no longer needed them.

“They were so happy to be giving it to us knowing it was going to a good situation to better a child’s life,” Jeff said.

When the Knights agreed to foster the little boy, they had no idea how long he would actually be with them. It turned out to be an eight-month long placement. Through it all, not only was the little boy growing and changing, but so was the Knight family.

“When we talked with the kids about fostering, we told them if they weren’t happy with it, we wouldn’t do it, but I don’t think they’ve been anything but excited,” Jeff explained. And the kids quickly became as enamored of their new family member as Jeff and Crystal did.

“They have shown a kindness and empathy that we’ve never seen before in our kids,” Crystal shared. Everyone knew going into the process that reunification is the ultimate goal of fostering, so they have been delighted to have formed a solid, supportive relationship with the boy’s mom. “We’re here for the whole family, and I think we feel really lucky that his mom is doing so well and that we have a good relationship with her,” Crystal said. “It makes saying goodbye easier because there’s the happiness of knowing the child is going back to their parents who ultimately love them. You put your own pain aside.”

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Jeff Knight shares a fun moment with his foster son, who was reunited with his mother in February. Jeff said he enjoyed being able to experience the toddler phase and watching his family’s capacity for love and empathy to grow.
Photo courtesy of Olivia Alnes Photography

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Letting go and looking back

When Jeff and Crystal sat down in February to share their story, they were within mere weeks of having to say goodbye to a sweet little boy who’d become a member of their family instantly. They shared their joy at knowing he would be returning to his mom, but Jeff and Crystal also acknowledged that not all foster care situations end as well as they believe theirs has.

“You don’t want to feel like you’re investing in a child and returning them to a bad situation; you want the child to go back to a loving family,” Jeff explained. “It prompts you to think about how can I help more? How much help do they want from us? It’s the feeling of wanting to make sure the child has the best life possible moving forward.”

That means supporting mom and making sure others understand everything she is doing to reunite with her child. “We’re advocating for her just as much as for him,” Crystal said. “We told her how proud of her we are even when we didn’t know her because she was doing what she can to get her child back. We weren’t judging her.”

Although they are still early in their fostering journey, Jeff and Crystal hope by sharing their story with others, they can help dispel some of the misconceptions people have about the foster care system and those in it. They started an Instagram account called @fosteringtheunknown to share their journey and help others understand the realities of being foster parents.

“Mom is the hero, not us; she’s doing the hard work,” Crystal said. “It’s much easier to open your home to a child than make yourself a better person by confronting the issues you’re dealing with.”

By the end of February, their foster son had returned to his mom. The situation was bittersweet, but the Knights know their relationship with his mom means they will still get to be intentional family members who will continue to love and support both of them.

They decided to pause fostering long-term placements to give themselves a chance to process their own emotions and focus on their own family for a while. But they know the break will be short-lived. “After having a toddler in the house, we’d like to foster an older child, and Adrian would love someone his age to hang out with,” Crystal shared.

Both acknowledged that extended family and friends have been so supportive from the moment they embarked on their fostering journey, and Crystal said her employer, FBS, has been amazing. “I’m so grateful I work for them; my job is amazing,” she shared. As an NDSU professor, Jeff has flexibility and availability in the summer, which worked out well for their first placement last summer.

Challenges and rewards

Looking back over this first phase of what they hope will be a long fostering journey, Jeff and Crystal already see some challenges. “Seeing the lack of support for the parents who are trying to get their kids back is hard,” Crystal said. “And we know caseworkers are so overworked.”

Another challenge is the lack of licensed foster parents who can help other foster families. “We can’t leave a foster child overnight or for an extended period of time with someone who is not licensed,” Jeff explained.

That’s why more foster parents are so crucial to the system. “The licensing process is lengthy, but it’s not hard,” Crystal shared. “You can get licensed and just be an emergency placement home or provide respite care. So many foster parents get burned out because respite care isn’t available for them.”

Cass County also provides support groups for foster parents, but Jeff and Crystal have relied more on an informal community of foster parents they’ve connected to through other friends who foster. They hope more people will make the decision to become foster parents.

“I know a lot of people are scared to bring foster kids into their home with their own kids, but seeing how our kids have stepped up has been amazing,” Crystal shared. “We tell his mom, ‘We love you, you’re family now.’ It’s amazing to see how much you can love someone else’s child.”

For Jeff, fostering has amplified a notion he already had before he ever met Crystal and her kids. “I knew the kids didn’t have to be mine, they didn’t have to come from me for me to love them,” Jeff said. “They can be just as important and special even if they came from someone else, and it’s surprising to find how easily they fit into the family.”

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Crystal Knight is joined by her foster son and his mother for a photo showing how their foster experience has expanded both of their families.
Photo courtesy of Olivia Alnes Photography

Want to know more about becoming a foster parent?

According to the Family Services Division of Cass County :

  • Foster parents can be single or married. 
  • They can rent or own a home.
  • They will be reimbursed to cover basic care for foster children.
  • They choose the age range, gender or special needs of children for whom they will provide care.
  • Foster children do not require their own bedroom but rather a bed and sufficient space for their personal belongings.
  • Foster children of an appropriate age can be in a basement bedroom with an egress window. 

The licensing process can take several months to complete, because it involves:

  • Background checks of adults in the home.
  • An application and references.
  • Medical self-declaration forms for everyone in the home.
  • An orientation visit followed by questionnaire to references. 
  • Completion of online training videos regarding safety requirements.
  • Two to three home visits after completion of the home study. 
  • Proof of auto insurance and pet immunizations (if applicable).
  • Completion of PRIDE training. 

North Dakotans interested in learning more about becoming a licensed foster care provider (foster parent) can call toll-free 1-833-FST-HOME or 1-833-378-4663, 711 (TTY) to talk to a recruitment and retention specialist.
Those interested can also complete and submit the online interest form on the North Dakota Department of Human Service’s website at https://www.nd.gov/dhs/services/childfamily/fostercare/care-in-nd.html .

Danielle Teigen has a bachelor's degree in journalism and management communication as well as a master's degree in mass communication from North Dakota State University. She has worked for Forum Communications since May 2015, first as a digital content manager before becoming the Life section editor and then deputy editor. She recently moved back to her hometown in South Dakota, where she works remotely for Forum Communications as managing editor of On the Minds of Moms.
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