How a Minnesota couple's foster care journey led to their forever family
Family of three welcomed two siblings through MN ADOPT State Adoption Exchange
Traci Anderson always knew the family she'd one day have would not be grown completely through biology, but that adoption would be intertwined into her family’s story. She admits that when she was a young child herself, she didn’t really understand how it actually happened, but she really loved the idea that a family didn’t have to match. Looking back now, she thinks she just wanted more siblings, since hers were 7 and 9 years older than she was. Plus, she had a friend whose family fostered children and another friend who was adopted, so she said she knew a little bit about what the word adoption meant.
When she met her husband Richard and they began discussing a family, Richard shared that his family fostered children while he grew up, and his family is still in touch with some of the kids who lived with them. “I knew about foster care and what it was like to have kids come and go,” Richard said. Once the couple married in 2012, they knew they wanted to become foster parents, so they set out to learn more and begin engaging with other foster families. They weren’t opposed to the idea of having biological children, but they said they wanted to be realistic about the potential struggles of getting pregnant. As they were beginning the paperwork process to become foster parents, Traci and Richard discovered that Traci was pregnant; their official licensing with Clay County was approved just days after their daughter Elsie was born in April 2015.
“We wondered if we would be able to have an infant and do foster care,” Traci shared. “Newborn life is difficult — it’s not all butterflies and rainbows — so we wanted to get in a groove and be open to our own ability to provide care.”
When Elsie was three months old, Traci and Richard said yes to their first foster child, who was a toddler. The experience was a wakeup call for the new parents.
“We learned a lot … it was a big learning curve,” Traci said with a nervous laugh. “I had to call my sister and ask questions like, ‘Do kids this age use forks? Should I put ketchup on their plate?’ It definitely triggered some anxiety for me.”
Richard also shared that the experience was challenging because in most parenting situations, an infant gradually grows into the toddler stages, giving parents time to learn and grow as well. In their first foster experience, they also became first-time toddler parents. “The hardest part was you have to learn it all now, at one time,” he said. They were fortunate to have grandparents who lived nearby who could help with Elsie and friends who provided clothing and toys to help with the transition.
The foster child wasn’t with the Andersons for very long, and they took some time to re-evaluate how best to approach foster care situations in the future. “We definitely had feelings of anxiety and thinking, ‘What did we get ourselves into, this is hard!’ ” Richard said.
Traci echoed those thoughts. “It’s very common for moms to get postpartum depression, but for foster and adoptive parents, post-placement depression is also common,” Traci explained. According to research from Purdue University, 18-26% of new adoptive mothers experienced symptoms of depression, with symptoms worse in mothers who did not have much time to prepare for the adoption or did not have the full biological background of the child. Following that first placement, the Andersons decided to wait before saying yes to another placement; Elsie was more than a year old when they said “yes” to their second placement, which went much smoother. For the next several years, Traci and Richard took in infants, developing skills to cope with infant trauma and recognize the special needs of those children. “Infant care felt natural for us because once you know it, it flows pretty easily,” Traci said. “We learned nap schedules and always had a car seat and diaper bag ready to go.”
As they got more comfortable in their role as foster parents, Traci and Richard also discovered the challenges of loving children so deeply and also having to say ‘goodbye.’ “Not being able to share milestones like their first steps, or cute new words like you would with your own kids can be lonely,” Traci shared. “Knowing how big your heart is and not being able to share that with the world is hard.”
"We see (foster care) more like we’re able to do this as a way to support their parent(s) who are working towards healing and getting back on the right path."
— Traci Anderson
Maintaining privacy for the children they were caring for was an important aspect of their role, Richard said. “Telling adults that children in the (foster care) system have rights too was something I personally learned a lot about,” he shared. “These kids aren’t from stereotypical situations; their parents are working through some really hard things and just need help and support … we see it more like we’re able to do this as a way to support their parent(s) who are working towards healing and getting back on the right path.”
Traci agreed. “These kids love and miss their parents so badly; I don’t condone what happened that resulted in the kids entering the foster care system, but (the parents) are working so hard to break habits and generational cycles,” she said. “We’ve really grown to love their parents as well, even if you don’t have contact with them or know that they made mistakes. It’s a type of love that is so hard to explain”
Reuniting foster kids with their parents and maintaining family preservation is always the main goal, the Andersons said, if that’s the best situation for everyone involved. In some cases, it’s not the most ideal circumstance, and that’s when foster care adoption programs step in. The Andersons said they had been open to a permanent placement in some situations when it made sense, but in those cases, adoption did not materialize. “Everything has to fit,” Richard explained.
Once Traci and Richard knew they wanted to adopt, they moved from Clay County to the Minnesota Waiting Kids program, the MN ADOPT State Adoption Exchange which allows caseworkers and people to match with children in foster care who need a permanent home; the program’s vision is to have zero kids waiting for permanent loving families, according to mnadopt.org.
Traci and Richard braced themselves for a long process — one that might take up to 18 months or more — and were surprised and delighted to find their match with two siblings, a little girl who was 2 at the time, and a boy who was 3, took only a few weeks to go from saying they wanted to learn more about them to being selected as their permanent home.
Just like that, they were matched.
During the process of transitioning the children from their amazing foster family to Richard and Traci’s, “the social workers did a great job of protecting the kids’ hearts,” Traci explained.
“I was really guarding my heart to not get overexcited,” Richard said. But once they got word they’d been chosen to adopt the children, Richard said the reality of the situation hit him. “My cheeks hurt from smiling so much. I’d guarded my heart for so long, and I finally got to release all this love, knowing this is forever,” he said.
Traci shared those same feelings, but also said she knew how difficult the process would be for the kids to leave the “special” foster family they’d been with to come home with the Andersons.
As for the transition from a family of three to a family of five in only a short time, Traci and Richard laughed. Because the kids are so close in age — Elsie turns six in April, followed by their son in June and their youngest turns 5 in July — Richard said they had to adjust quickly. There’s obviously more noise and more toys but also more love and laughter. Plus, the Andersons didn’t have to brace themselves to ever say goodbye.
“I didn’t have to worry about loving them and then letting go; I am loving them and they are going to stay,” Traci said. “My heart had to heal a little bit knowing that I was done with that phase because here we are, a family.”
As the Andersons continue to live as a new family of five, they have decided not to continue fostering in the immediate future. But they said the subject comes up frequently about when the right time to get back into fostering would be. They would like to wait until the kids are older, and they want to make sure no one is triggered by the idea of opening their home to other foster children. “We wouldn’t decide without talking to the kids first and making sure we are all ready for that journey again,” Richard said.
While they enjoy not having to write monthly reports or keep their home spotless for home visits or get permission to take the kids on a trip, Traci and Richard talk fondly about being foster parents and would love to see more people step into that role.
“It doesn’t take a perfect parent,” Traci explained. “You just have to love kids and be willing to be there for them, to go through the hard stuff, be willing to get to know the parents...Getting to know their parents has changed us, too.”
Richard agreed. “It just takes someone who is willing to have the mindset that I’m loving on some amazing kids and also willing to offer some love and support to their parents,” he shared. “It’s not about being a hero; it’s that I’m willing to be a safe and soft landing place for these children.” Traci shared that during their years of being foster parents, many people told her they could never do it — they couldn’t say goodbye to the kids. “Yes, that’s hard, but who will do it then?” Traci said. “Foster care isn’t for everyone, but people need to step up and be in the gap for these kids and families. We were all made to do hard things and being a foster parent is my hard thing. It just so happens that this hard thing is also the most rewarding thing.”
In reflecting on her family’s foster care journey, Traci couldn’t help but think about the countless important moments they were able to witness for all the kids who’ve been in their home — and now their hearts — over the years. Moments like riding a bike for the first time, finally being comfortable and vulnerable enough to fall asleep in their arms, laughing while playing with others, crawling up to snuggle in their lap…
“Those are all the moments we could have missed if we hadn’t taken the leap to do foster care,” Traci said.
May is National Foster Care month
Here are some things to know about foster care and how to get involved to make a difference in a child’s life:
According to the Children’s Bureau, there were more than 423,000 children and youth in foster care in 2020. In North Dakota, there are 1,560 children in foster care and in Minnesota , the number is more than 10,000.
The process for becoming a licensed foster family can take 3 months or more and is done through a local county agency. Foster parents are required to be at least 21 years old.
Some training is required, depending on the ages of the children who will be present in the home.
Different types of foster care exist, such as emergency shelter care, respite care (which relieves birth and foster parents for a very short time, such as a weekend), or foster-adoptive.
To learn more about foster care in North Dakota, visit https://www.nd.gov/dhs/services/childfamily/fostercare/ . For Minnesota, visit https://www.mnadopt.org/fostering-network/foster-care-process/ . You can also Google your county and state followed by “Foster Care Licensing” to learn who you should contact to get started.