Foster care helps heal Iowa's kids

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Four Oaks, a statewide children and family nonprofit, assisted Jane Parker in becoming a foster mother nearly 14 years ago. From left are Kassie Parker and her foster mother, Jane Parker. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

A welcoming foster care home, whether with a single parent or couple, offers a child the opportunity to develop healthy emotional attachments, gain trust, increase self-esteem and provide an opportunity to learn valuable life skills. A foster parent's most important role for the duration of the child's stay is to be that of a teacher and  mentor. 

Guttenberg councilwoman Jane Parker began her journey as a foster mother approximately 14 years ago. Parker, who is also an employee of the Guttenberg Municipal Hospital, contacted Four Oaks, a statewide children and family nonprofit, to help guide her to become a foster mother. "I took the classes and completed all the home studies and weeks later I was called to take my first child," Parker told The Press. "There is such a need.  It may sound scary to some, but honestly Four Oaks helps you with determining which child/children will fit well in your home and the resources you will need to care for that child."

Parker was inspired to become a foster mother out of appreciation for her own upbringing. She shared her story, "I’ve always said, I got on the bus at our farm every morning for school, never worrying if my parents were going to be there when I got home – how blessed was that.   I never worried where my next meal might come from, or if I would have a bed to sleep in at night.  I’ve been so blessed in my life to have a great family and resources now to help those kids who worry about what we all take for granted." 

Parker took advantage of the opportunity regardless of her status. "Being a divorced, single woman with an empty nest, I knew a home with just a mom was better than no home at all for kids," she pointed out. 

Although Parker does not keep track, she guesstimated that upwards of 20 children have passed through her door. "Some kids stayed only a few weeks or months and some stayed through high school graduation. Those are the true joys, helping teen girls enjoy all the experiences of a healthy high school career and seeing them move onto college or work as a strong young woman."

Parker offered some advice for anyone considering foster parenting. "It is, at times, the hardest job you will ever love, and besides raising your own children, it is also the most rewarding."

If foster care seems like too large a commitment for your household, Four Oaks offers shorter classes to become a respite home for children in foster care.   "These homes are so important for families doing full time foster care who just need a little break for a weekend, or week to get revitalized," commented Parker. 

The dedicated foster mother realized early on that fostering a child takes commitment and plenty of outside assistance. "'It takes a village' has always been my motto. If it hadn’t been for my supportive parents, brothers and sisters, and my own children and their spouses, I would not have been able to help these kids," she said with gratitude. "The community of Guttenberg and Clayton Ridge Schools has embraced every child I have ever cared for. You can’t and will never have to do it alone." 

Parker's welcoming open door policy has kept her in contact with some of the children she fostered. "Some have gone home to biological families, and some have ventured to other parts of the country to make their own way.  Some come for visits with their own kids now. One special daughter, Kassie Parker, has been the shining example of what unconditional love can do for the success of a kind, hard-working, independent girl!" she proudly shared. 

Kassie Parker

Kassie Parker, a Loras College kinseology major and graduate student, and award-winning Division III Collegiate athlete, felt a sense of belonging when she first arrived at the Parker residence "Right away when I came into the family, I felt open arms and a sense of belonging. At the time being so young, I had no idea what was going to happen or consider looking far into my future," Parker remembered. "With each month I was there, turned into a year, and then a year turned into two years, and then it turned into multiple years. In a way I felt connected to the family and it just felt natural as time kept going by."

Kassie is grateful for the lessons she learned as part of an extended family. "I made friends, participated in sports, eventually got a job, and learned multiple values from the Parker and Kann family," she listed. 

Kassie attributes her current success to lessons she learned under Jane's care. "I learned the hard work ethic and dedication to my career and my sport. Without that I would not be the person I am today. I learned to invest in myself – that I am stronger than what other people or myself think," she shared. 

Kassie concluded with these sentiments, "I love everyone in the family and I am grateful for every single one of them as they have each had individual, positive impacts on me." 

She continued, "Most of all, though, Jane Parker, my mom, has been there for my best days and my worst days. She is the greatest role model a person can look up to. She has the biggest heart not only for me, but for others, despite the struggle that can happen when taking a girl in. I’m very blessed to be a part of this family, especially as I am a godmother to my nephew and

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