Phil Castle, The Business Times
When Lori Ellis isn’t busy at work, she’s busy at home.
Ellis runs Johnson’s House of Flowers, the fourth generation of her family to operate the Grand Junction business.
But Ellis also works as chief executive mother of a son and three daughters. Ellis and her husband serve as foster parents for Foster Care of Mesa County, a part of the Mesa County Department of Human Services. They’ve adopted the boy and hope to adopt the girls.
Along with the demands of caring for four children — the oldest of which is 5 years old and the youngest just 4 months old — there’s the additional requirements of visitations, meetings with caseworkers and court appearances.
“It’s time consuming,” Ellis said.
Alana and Cody Davis tell a similar story as the owners of Chronos Homes, a custom home construction company, and foster parents who’ve cared for five foster children over the past three years.
In addition to raising two biological children, the couple adopted a daughter they took into their home when she was only 8 days old.
“It really dictates a lot of your schedule,” Alana Davis said.
But along with the challenges of foster parenting come substantial rewards.
“The rewards are greater,” Ellis said.
And entrepreneurship and foster parenting actually work well together in affording flexibility, Ellis and Davis said. When a meeting or doctor’s appointment requires time away from work in the middle of the day, they can adjust their hours and workloads as needed.
“For us, personally, it’s such a help,” Davis said.
Given the difference between the number of children and youth in foster care in Mesa County and the number of available foster homes, more foster parents are needed, said Chad Kaneakua.
Kaneakua works as a placement resource manager and recruits and licenses foster homes for Foster Care of Mesa County.
At any given time, about 250 children and youth are in foster care in Mesa County, Kaneakua said.
The children have been removed from their homes for abuse, neglect or other reasons. They’re placed with relatives, foster families or group homes until they can be safely reunited with parents, Kaneakua said.
“I think our foster homes are pretty top notch,” he added.
But there are only about 70 homes available for foster care, Kaneakua said.
The rigorous screening process for foster parents begins with a telephone conversation during which Kaneakua said he offers a brief overview of the program and answers any questions that might arise.
If the potential foster parents decide to go forward, Kaneakua schedules a personal meeting in their homes. Extensive background checks and training takes place over the following two to three months.
Kaneakua said he looks for lots of things in foster parents, starting with the ability to nurture children and offer unconditional love in a stable and healing environment.
Foster parents also must be willing to change their lifestyles to meet the needs of their foster children as well as adapt their parenting styles depending on individual circumstances, he added.
In addition to the relationships foster parents develop with their foster children, they also develop relationships with the biological parents and other relatives of the children for which they care. Kaneakua said.
Foster parents often serve as coaches in helping biological parents develop life and parenting skills, he said.
“It’s very hard and very rewarding,” he added. “It’ll test your heart strings.”
Ellis and Davis both said they had considered adoption and decided to try being foster parents first. They’ve subsequently done both.
Said Ellis: “My husband and I both really wanted children and we wanted to make a difference.”
While their roles now involve all the demands of parents in addition to those imposed by the foster program, Ellis and Davis said caseworkers and other staff at the Mesa County Department of Human Services offer considerable support.
So does a monthly support group meeting at which foster parents gather to share their experiences and ideas.
As a business owner, Ellis said she’s in a position to meet with a lot of people and promote the foster care program.
Davis said being a foster parent isn’t for everyone, whether they’re entrepreneurs or not. But for those willing to face the challenges with hard work and patience, come the rewards. “It’s worth it.”
Kaneakua said he hears the same thing from foster parents. “If you stick with it long enough, the rewards are phenomenal. If that’s what they say, that’s what I believe.”
For more information about the Mesa County Department of Human Services foster care program, call the foster parent information line at 248-2794.