For years, Susan Jones had dreamed of being a foster parent.
The 31-year-old Columbus-suburb resident works in the food industry and has personally witnessed so many youth in volatile situations.
“I really wanted to be a fall-back for them and provide the safe space that I know they need,” says Jones.
The only obstacle? Convincing Lauren Coon, her partner of 10 years.
Coon has one son, a 12-year-old who has had Jones in his life since he was 2 years old. Still, Jones was convinced that their house had even more love to give.
“Every time something would come on tv about foster care, I would elbow Lauren,” laughs Jones.
Coon, with sore ribs after years of elbowing, concurs.
“Susan would definitely not give up,” notes Coon. “She was pretty focused.”
Towards the beginning of 2020, Coon came around, turned to Jones, and said, “Alright, let’s do it.”
The very next day, Jones called The Buckeye Ranch, one of the country’s leading providers of emotional, behavioral and mental health services for children, youth and families.
The couple said the entire process from call to paperwork to approval took less than four months.
“It all went as ideal as it could go,” says Jones.
And then that fateful call came.
All Jones and Coon knew was that was that the potential placement was a sibling set of 3: one boy and two girls, ages 15, 13, and 11. The couple immediately said yes and the siblings arrived late at night. From the very first moments, everything clicked.
“They were even excited to have two foster moms,” says Jones. “They hadn’t had strong father figures in their life, so they were excited we were a couple of lesbians.”
The experience of Jones and Coon is one that The Buckeye Ranch hopes inspires more LGBTQ+ people to consider becoming foster parents. And with nearly 3,000 Ohio eligible youth, the need for placements is greater than ever.
The Pandemic Effect
As the country continues to come to grips with the effects of the pandemic, the general fatigue that has hit Ohioans has most certainly affected the foster system. And not in a good way.
Amy Nims, Director of Foster Care at The Buckeye Ranch, points out that so many Ohioans are now focused on meeting their basic needs. Thus those who may have previously considered fostering available youth have instead spent the past two years turning their minds to other considerations.
“Spare bedrooms for foster kids have become home offices, people are working for less, and Ohioans are all avoiding stress or traumatic things because we’re all just trying to stay afloat,” says Nims. “All the while, every day, all day, we need more foster homes.”
Nims pauses as she says that last sentence.
She knows that some potential foster parents will see the extraordinary need for homes and become frustrated when a placement doesn’t happen immediately upon approval. She explains that part of the delay is that the need for homes doesn’t always match up with the “one-young-child” idea held by so many potential foster parents.
“Look, any foster care is a help,” says Nims. “But we aren’t getting a lot of referrals to place one 8-year-old child. We’re getting referrals for a sibling set of three or four kids between 8 and 12-years-old or a teenager who might have a history of acting out.”
As some families are not open to a variety of youth or some homes are not large enough to accommodate sibling sets, the need continues to grow.
LGBTQ+ Plus Foster Care
LGBTQ+ identity is present throughout the foster system on so many different fronts.
Study after study indicates that LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately overrepresented in the foster system owing to myriad factors, including a lack of family acceptance that has resulted in so many LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness.
Though agencies like The Buckeye Ranch want to find the most supportive foster home possible for LGBTQ+ youth, not all youth reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity on paperwork or to counselors. As this critical information may not be known, staff instead set out to prepare parents for any outcome.
“We make sure to do cultural training with all of our parents,” says Nims. “Though we may not always know if the child identifies as LGBTQ+, we do everything we can to give parents the tools to provide a safe space with any child who may walk through their doors.”
LGBTQ+ foster parents may also be hesitant in revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity, especially given the current social climate. With so much commentary perpetuated by conservative voices around the word “grooming,” some LGBTQ+ adults might pause before taking on a foster child or even starting the process, all for fear of negative associations.
The Buckeye Ranch wants to dispel any hesitation from potential LGBTQ+ foster parents as quick as they can.
“Research show that LGBTQ+ parents are even more devoted because they have more hoops to jump through than a heteronormative couple,” highlights Nims. “LGBTQ+ foster parents are so very necessary.”
Ask Them Some Questions and Get Some Answers
To help potential foster parents begin their journey, The Buckeye Ranch is hosting a series of events in the upcoming months to provide opportunities to speak with foster parents who have already been through the process.
Nims says that the hope is that the fear and stigma is taken out of the experience of fostering, ultimately increasing the pool of possible foster homes.
“For example, people think, ‘I could never take a teen!’” says Nims. “And then they hear from foster parents who are enamored of the teen they have taken in because the teen cognitively understands things better and can express their needs.”
Susan Jones and Lauren Coon are right there at the front of the line telling individuals to become foster parents.
After a year in their home, the brother of the sibling set was reunited with his biological father. His two sisters—from different fathers—remain with Jones and Coon.
The couple laugh at the some of the moments they have experienced in the past two years where the learning curve felt steep.
“We’ve never raised girls before and we skipped a few steps and started with teenage girls,” says Jones.
But at the end of the day, the couple is so appreciative of the “extra love” that fostering has brought into their home. They fervently hope more people step forward to become foster parents, especially their LGBTQ+ peers.
“This is all just super rewarding,” says Coon. “If an LGBTQ+ home can provide a safe place for kids, that is so important right now. And so needed.” 🔥
This story was made possible through the support of The Buckeye Ranch.
- The Buckeye Ranch will be holding a “Virtual Chat with a Foster Parent: LGBTQ+ youth and families” on Tuesday, June 28 at from noon to 1pm. To register, go here.