A first hand look at foster parenting, from both sides


Parenthood can be challenging at any level, but Terry loved being a mom.  Things were going fine – until one of her boys began having problems.  The serious behavioral problems were not something Terry had ever encountered before with her other children.  She was at a loss as to what to do.

Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), her son had been prescribed medication, but it didn’t seem to be doing any good.  Terry and her husband, Jim, were at their wits end.  Finally, in desperation, they reached out to an organization called PATH, which specializes in foster care and treatment options for children and families. It was through PATH that Terry and Jim found a solution.

PATH (www.pathmn.org) was initially incorporated in Minnesota as the Professional Association of Treatment Homes, but almost immediately began to be known by its acronym, PATH.  As a child welfare agency, PATH is unique in that it was originally established by foster parents.  The founders of PATH believed that foster care could be far more successful if foster parents were full partners in the child’s treatment.

In consultation with counselors at PATH, Terry agreed to voluntarily place her son into the care of foster parents in order to find help dealing with his behavior.  It wasn’t an easy decision.  Terry is not a lazy parent.  She wasn’t looking for a way to get off the hook, but she needed help.  She and her husband Jim began working closely with her son’s foster parents, helping to establish behavioral guidelines and spending as much time attending activities and visiting with him as they could.  Since the foster family lived over an hour away, it was a lot of driving, but Terry and Jim stuck with it.

Finally, as if by a miracle, a different diagnosis was made, different medication was prescribed, and the boy’s behavior changed overnight.  “It was a complete turnaround,” said Terry.

Impressed with the amazing results the foster parents had achieved with her son, Terry decided she would like to be a foster parent someday.  “If I ever lose my job, or get laid off,” she told her husband, “I would like to try foster care.”

Jim agreed that it would be an interesting thing to try.  A few years later, the company Terry worked for in the western Twin Cities’ suburbs was bought out by another company; soon her division was transferred to Rochester.  So, Terry was out of work.  She found short-term positions locally, but couldn’t stop thinking of becoming a foster parent.  Soon Terry and Jim made a decision to go ahead with the foster care idea.  They went through the licensing process and began providing foster care for boys in 2007.

“I have heard of people who do foster care for the money,” said Terry.  “But I wasn’t doing it for that reason.  I treated all the foster kids as though they were my own.  Some foster parents won’t let the kids be involved in sports because it costs extra – and you don’t get reimbursed for that – but I bought the kids who were in my home the clothing or additional equipment they needed for their activities, went to their games or other activities, cooked for them, and just made them part of my family.”

“You don’t get rich doing foster care,” said Terry.  “Yes, you get whatever the daily amount is (which varies, depending on the child), but you don’t get paid for extra things, like transportation to and from school, or having school photos taken.  I did it because I cared, and I put my heart and soul into it,” Terry explained.

In fact, Terry decided to make a special fleece blanket for each of the children who were placed with her.  It was a labor of love for her, as she likes crafting and enjoyed the process.  She took each child shopping and let them pick out a favorite fabric.  When the blanket was finished, she took a photo of each child with his or her new blanket.

Terry also helped the kids make scrapbooks and cards to remember their time together and their many achievements – school, after school activities, sports, and just having fun together.  In so many ways, Terry allowed these children into her heart and her home.

Terry and Jim provided the kind of foster home that agencies can only hope for.  They were firm, but kind.  According to Terry, they never backed down.  “These are the rules,” she told the kids, “and you need to follow them.”  It wasn’t easy, of course.  Some of the foster children that lived in the Frilstad’s home acted out, using bad language and calling their foster parents names.  Terry had to develop a thick skin.  And, just like biological or adoptive children, the kids had to learn how to interact in the community, as well. Terry had great success in dealing with Kimball High School, where the principal, teachers, and guidance counselor all helped to nip potential problems in the bud.

Of course, Jim’s position as Chief of Police of the Kimball Police Department didn’t hurt when they needed to know what was going on.  “Jim goes into the schools all the time,” said Terry, “so if something happened at school, he already knew about it before the kids got home.”

“But Jim was a dad at home, not a cop,” added Terry.

The Frilstads worked with the parents as well as the kids, as much as possible.  “We wanted the kids to know they could talk to their parents or talk to us,” said Terry.  “Most of the parents,” she said, “were very appreciative.”

However, after seven years the Frilstads decided not to continue to provide foster care.  “It was an emotional experience,” says Terry.  Because they knew the great things that foster parents could achieve, Terry and Jim had kept at it.  But they also knew their limits.

“I had boys with anger issues,” said Terry.  Although many of the kids were well-behaved, there were times when damage was done to their home, and times when the kids’ anger turned towards their foster parents.

Many of the children eventually showed their appreciation for the Frilstads’ care.  Terry has developed long-term relationships with quite a few of their former foster children.  Some send cards or texts on Mother’s Day and other holidays.  They all tell her they miss her cooking.  One boy asked, after living independently for a while, “What would a person have to do to get some of your awesome macaroni and cheese?”  (Terry promptly invited him over for dinner – and made mac and cheese.)

The rewards of knowing they were helping the kids, as well as the cards and hugs and requests for special food – those are the things that kept Terry and Jim doing foster care for 7 years.  The downside was seeing children who were stuck in a system that didn’t always work as well as it should – and knowing that what you were doing might not make enough of a difference in some children’s lives.

Some of the children went back to unhappy homes; some turned 18 and (legally) left their foster home with barely a “goodbye.”

Although they were frustrated with the limitations of the system and with what they wanted to offer, Terry and Jim were grateful that they were able to adopt one of the boys who they fostered.

“He is a great kid,” said Terry.  He lived in their home as a foster child for over 4 years, so he has already been part of the family for a while.  At the top of his class, and participating in sports and other extracurricular activities, he continues to thrive in his “forever home” environment.

Once the Frilstads finalized the adoption of this special teenager, Terry and Jim decided to stop doing foster care.  In May 2014, the Frilstads closed out their foster care license.

Asked if she would do it again, Terry said she didn’t know.  Having put her heart and soul into doing foster care, Terry knows that great things can come of it.  But she also knows that she gets awfully attached to the kids, and it was hard to see them go back to bad homes or leave their foster home as soon as they turned 18.

“I would like to say I would do it again and not get so attached to the kids.  But I don’t think I could do that,” said Terry.  “I don’t know if I could.”

#FosterCare #PATH

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