Foster Parent Highlight: Latoya and Stephen Olagunju
Latoya became interested in fostering during her work as a dependency care manager as she had front line experience in helping children and families work towards a goal of reunification. When reunification was not possible she helped to ensure a safe home was available for children either through adoption, the home of a relative or non-relative, or independent living. Latoya visited many foster homes and saw how much of an impact foster parents had on the lives of the children placed in their home. Her husband, Stephen, was a school teacher at the time and also had experience working with children who were in care. In hopes of giving children faith and a positive attitude about the foster care experience, the Olagunju’s made a promise to one another that when they purchased their first home they would open it to children in need of a nurturing environment by becoming foster parents. Two weeks after the family closed on their new home they began the PRIDE training and five months later were licensed foster parents preparing to accept their first placement.
The family describes the most rewarding aspect is watching the children in our home grow and develop while in our care. “We provide an environment where children are encouraged and pushed to begin reaching developmental milestones,” the couple shared. “We even taught sign language to a 20 month old who had not yet learned to speak. We also got him evaluated and enrolled in services with a speech pathologist. We enjoy story time with the children in our home and love to watch their faces light up when we read books that they enjoy. It is rewarding to us when a child leaves our home having learned as much as they could and even more rewarding when their development is enhanced while in our care.”
They describe their biggest challenge as having to say goodbye. “We have had children be reunified, placed with a relative, placed with a different foster family, etc. and it never gets any easier. We have found a great way of dealing with this by making it a celebration. We have done cake & ice cream, we have taken a four year old to Chuck E Cheese for the day, and we do whatever that child wants to do that is fun and uplifting,” Latoya states. “We also take pictures and send them with the child. We have a photo album in our home and keep a photo of every child who leaves our home. The front of the photo album reads, ‘time goes by way too fast but memories last forever.”
The Olagunju’s recently took a one year old into their home that came with no shoes. The CPI (Child Protective Investigator) stated that she could not locate any shoes in his home. The bottom and top of his feet were cut up and it was determined that he may not have had any shoes. Latoya and Stephen purchased shoes for him and when they placed them on the child’s feet, he gave them biggest most heartwarming smile they had ever seen in their lives. “It is things like this that motivate us and show us that we made a great decision in becoming foster parents,” Stephen and Latoya shared. “We enjoy touching the lives of the children in our home even if it is as simple as a pair of shoes!”
The Olagunju’s advice to prospective foster parents is to commit 100% to all aspects of being a foster parent. Be patient and understanding with not only the child, but all members of his/her team (CPI, DCM, GAL, BIO parents, etc.). Stand for what you believe in and be the biggest advocate and cheerleader for the children in your home. “Nothing gets past us!” said Stephen. “We ask questions, address concerns, and we ensure that everything that could be beneficial to the children in my home is being done.” Simply put, Stephen and Latoya understand that no one is perfect, but they encourage others be the best foster parent that they can be!