When Holly Thingelstad decided to become a foster parent, she knew the decision was a long time coming. Seeing foster care work for her close friends during childhood, the idea of being a foster parent resonated with her well into her adult life. After settling down and creating a space that she knew would provide love and support for foster children, she decided on a Sunday afternoon that it was now or never.
“I sent an email to PATH North Dakota on a Sunday. By Monday, I received a call from their office. The next thing I knew, I was going over the questions and concerns I’d had for so long. After the initial visit, I knew that working with PATH was the right decision. I also knew that if I were worried or struggling, they would be by my side to walk me through everything,” says Holly.
Working closely with the team at PATH, she went through an extensive licensing process that included a multi-step home study and various training programs.
“The training was and still remains helpful through the trials and tribulations that come with being a foster parent. I’ve seen a lot of positive moments, but I’ve also seen dark days with these kids. What helped me through those times was the training and support from PATH,” says Holly.
Part of the licensing process includes a screening which reviews who you are as a person, what your home life is like, what ages and gender you would feel comfortable fostering, and why you feel fostering is right for you. These answers are then used to help narrow down which children may be a good fit for each individual foster home.
“We want to ensure we are setting our kids and foster parents up for success and that child and family alike have a positive experience. We want foster parents to feel confident in being able to meet kids’ needs while we work to eventually reunify them with their biological families,” says Sonja Stang, Director of Community Relations with PATH North Dakota.
Over the past several years, Holly has had the privilege of fostering numerous children through a part-time and weekend basis.
“There’s a common misconception that fostering is part-time or full-time, and that’s it. This just isn’t true. Several times, I’ve had teenagers come to my home over a weekend in need of a place to relax and regroup while their parents did the same. Sometimes that mini break is what helps both the children and their biological parents keep going. I’ve truly enjoyed those little moments as they’ve come,” says Holly.
Two years ago, Holly’s life changed when a then six-year-old girl came to live with her on a full-time basis. Welcoming this child into her home, Holly felt an instant connection that she knew would last a lifetime, regardless of the outcome.
“As a foster parent, you understand that the goal is to give children a safe place to live until they can be reunited with their biological family. This can be a hard concept to understand. The way I see it, it can be difficult for me to say goodbye to each child. But I can’t imagine what life would be like without the safety and security of being in foster care,” added Holly.
Regardless of the outcome for fostering, PATH is there for each child to give them the best chance at life.
“Kids in PATH foster care have experienced an average of 5.5 types of traumas by the time they enter PATH services, with very young children being among that group. Although foster care statistics show a large age range in youth, our biggest need is for those able and willing to foster preteens and teenagers,” says Sonja.
Children eight years old on up to eighteen can be some of the more difficult ages to foster but can also be the most rewarding. Showing love and consistency help these young minds overcome the trauma they have faced. It helps reshape their brains to accept support and show them that life can be positive.
“Thinking of fostering a child or teenager can be daunting, but at the end of the day, these are kids who need love and support while they wait to go back home to their biological family or as they start their journey into adulthood. Having a positive experience in foster care can lead to better success as an adult,” added Sonja.
Children, no matter the age, race, gender, or trauma level, need guidance and love to make it through everyday life. If you or someone you know is considering becoming a foster parent, PATH will answer any questions and dispel some of the better-known stigmas surrounding fostering. Like in Holly’s case, PATH provides knowledge and education to families in the Fargo area and across North Dakota who have joined the ranks to create a loving community for any child in need.