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Victoria family builds strength by fostering children

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Jan. 25, 2012 at 8:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 24, 2012 at 7:25 p.m.

Jae, 4, left, and her sibling Jordan, 2, both suffered physical abuse from their biological parents. They were later fostered and adopted by Laura and John Gonzales.

CROSSROADS FOSTERING

Lutheran Social Services offers specialized training, including trauma-informed care for foster parents.

Foster children are offered individual counseling and therapy.

On-call support for emergency and support is offered 24 hours for parents, as well as respite care when needed.

Lutheran Social Services offers stipends of $40 for the first child and $30 for each additional child every month. State stipends, free healthcare and other benefits are also offered.

Potential foster parents are screened through a series of interviews, background checks, training, and home interviews.

Individuals and couples are welcome to apply.

For more information: Contact Lutheran Social Services of the South, 361-574-8331 or online, lsss.org.

Information about Child Protective Services and fostering, as well as a list of benefits through the state, can be found at dfps.state.tx.us

In the rear of Laura Gonzales' home, an oversized grey concrete slab waits for the construction of a bedroom addition.

When construction is complete, she'll have yet another bedroom prepared for a foster child in need of temporary care and long-term love.

"If I could have 14 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms built on this house, I'd do it," Gonzales said, smiling. "There's so many children out there who need good homes."

It isn't the first time she and her husband, John Gonzales, have expanded their Victoria abode to house children removed by Texas Child Protective Services.

The one-story home on Taos Drive was originally built with three bedrooms, but the dwelling has since expanded to five bedrooms after the couple enclosed their den and garage.

But the Gonzales' family itself has also expanded.

The couple's children now include four biological kids, three adopted children - who were formerly fostered by the couple - and one foster child who is temporarily living at the home. They were housing another foster child until recently, when the boy was sent home to reunite with his biological family.

"It's sad when they leave. I cry all the way home, and I try to let the parents know I'm available to the child and the parents if they need me," she said with tears in her eyes, remembering all the children she has seen come and go since 2008, when the couple first decided to foster.

But while the Gonzales family is more than willing to take in as many children as they can, the reality is that many Crossroads children removed by Child Protective Services, will not be placed with a local foster family.

"There is need for foster parents in the Victoria and surrounding areas, particularly for older children," said Mary Walker, public information director for Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. "We are always looking for more foster parents."

In 2010, the agency reported 3,763 child removals, and 31,792 completed investigations of child welfare cases. Only 1,046 of those children were adopted out.

The number increased from 2004, when the agency reported 2,773 removals, 27,543 completed investigations and 651 adoptions.

"Every day we get calls for children needing placement. There's a great need for foster parents who are willing to take a variety of children and older children," said Crystal Laslie, Lutheran Social Services of the South area director. "If we don't have beds for them, they may go to shelters or get split up if they're a sibling group or sent to San Antonio and other cities."

The Austin-based Lutheran Social Services, a nonprofit organization that facilitates adoption and fostering children, has 20 available foster families in the Crossroads - which includes the Gonzales family - and 44 children in foster care, Laslie said.

"We would just like to have more families in this area," she said. "It makes it more difficult for the children to visit their families when they're two hours away. And the ultimate goal is to reunify them with their (biological) families."

For Gonzales, though, she never aspired to be a foster parent. Even with four biological children - Jackie, 17; Jasper, 10; John, 13; and Jaden, 6 - she knew she desired more children, but she thought adoption would be the best option for her family.

"I wanted more babies after I had my own, but medical complications prevented me from having more," she said. "So I thought about adopting. I only wanted to adopt."

After connecting with Lutheran Social Services, Gonzales was encouraged to foster first, for about six months.

"They said I should try it out first ... the first couple of kids almost made me change my mind. They weren't siblings, and had a lot of emotional problems and were physically abused. One child had been living in a closet for five years," she said, tearing up. "Those were a trying few years."

But Gonzales said she and her husband pressed on, recognizing the growing need in the Crossroads for families who could love and support children from violent or incapable parents.

Then two years ago, Lutheran Social Services placed a sibling group in Gonzales' care - infant fraternal twins Justin and Jordan, and older sister Jae, who was 2 years old at the time.

"They had skull fractures, and one of them had a feeding tube. They had eye contusions, liver lacerations," Gonzales said. "The mom was abusing them. You name it, they probably had it. We didn't think one of the twins was going to make it."

Jordan and Justin, now 2 years old, and 4-year-old Jae were officially adopted by Gonzales in July. And even though the children suffer some residual health problems from the abuse, they each have grown into enthusiastic and healthy children.

"I like living here. I like playing dishes," a breathless Jae said, after running around the backyard and climbing a tree with her six siblings.

Jae's younger siblings, who are similarly energetic, are developing slower and have not yet learned to talk, Gonzales said.

In addition to receiving a monthly fostering stipend from the state, Gonzales said her adopted and many of her foster children also will receive several benefits as they mature, among which includes free college tuition to any non-private Texas university.

As her own family grows, and biological children are mixed with adopted and fostered children, Gonzales said she ensures the children know they are all equally loved and accepted.

"There's no distinction; they're all mine," she said.

And as long as foster parents are needed in the Crossroads, Gonzales said she will have a bedroom ready for them, even if she has to build another addition on her home.

"If I'm breathing and God keeps me healthy enough to run after them, they'll have a place to stay," she said.

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