Many of us have probably passed by a foster child at one time in our lives, either in the hallway at school or walking down the street, but we never realized it. Perhaps a thought had crossed your mind that you would look into becoming a foster parent … someday. Even though the decision to be a foster parent may appear unlikely for some, for the 13,000 children currently living in Michigan foster care, it’s the most important decision a person can make. Foster care identifies and places children in safe homes when they cannot remain with their birth families because of safety concerns. Foster families provide these children with the consistency and support they need to grow. The main goal is to return children back to their homes when it is safe, yet if this isn’t possible, adoptive families are needed. “Over 3,000 of these 13,000 children are eligible for adoption in Michigan and 98 of the 3,000 live in the tri-county region of Lansing,” said Natalie Marshall, Foster Care Licensing Specialist at St. Vincent Catholic Charities. As a 22-year-old college student, Lansing resident Latavia Stine had big dreams for a nursing career. When Stine learned in 2012 that her then 2 month old nephew, Dwight, had been put into foster care, she felt it was best if he stayed with family, so she became a licensed foster parent in order to provide a safe and loving home for him. This strong dedication to family came from her parents’ amazing example. “Before this happened I always thought about it in the back of my mind as I was raised in a foster home and my mom was a foster parent as well,” explained Stine. “My parents adopted me and my sister at a really young age. I don’t know what it was like to be in different foster homes, yet I was raised around brothers and sisters who came in later on at older ages and some younger. I have 10 brothers and sisters, and nine of us were adopted.” Stine made the decision early on that if Dwight was not able to go back to his family member, she’d be willing to adopt him. About a year and a half later, Dwight’s little sister, Hailey, was born, who needed the same care as her little brother, so Stine welcomed her into her home. “I was really nervous. I had a full-time job working third shift taking care of elderly adults when I had my nephew. He came to my home on Oct. 2, 2012 when he was 3 months old. I actually picked Hailey up from the hospital about a week after she was born last year. That was scary because she was born five months early so I had to learn different things about that too; I was really nervous about it, but I knew I could do it because I did it with Dwight and I had a really good support system,” said Stine. Stine set aside completing her college education to care for these children but she’s never regretted it. She adopted both children this past June and hopes to one day foster more children. Even though foster parenting wasn’t easy, Stine personally grew from the experience. “It took me some time to get used to it all. With foster care, (you don’t) really know the outcome, what would happen in the end, this made me nervous for Dwight. Overall, it’s been a positive experience,” said Stine. “It made me a lot more mature than I already was, it taught me responsibility and that I wasn’t alone.” There is a great need for foster parents in the tri-county area as well as across Michigan, especially for older children, teenagers, sibling groups, and kids with special medical, physical or emotional needs. Foster parents are not alone, the agency they choose is there to help them be successful. “At St. Vincent, we have a supportive staff and environment, case workers, therapists and education — a big component to helping these families work through the trauma and issues these kids face. We consider our foster families as a vital part of our team,” said Marshall. When asked if Stine would recommend foster parenting to others she said, “Being there for someone and seeing how much of a difference you’ve made in their lives is one of the biggest rewards. It’s a selfless act and it’s hard, but if you’re passionate about it, it’s something people should do a lot more of.” The Foster Care Navigators is a statewide program that serves as a main information point for all families interested in becoming licensed foster parents. Navigators are experienced foster parents who can answer questions, help you find an agency and provide you with guidance through your journey to becoming a foster parent. According to Katie Page Sander, Foster Care Navigator Program Manager, there are myths people believe about what an agency might be looking for in foster parents. “They think they have to be parents, stay-at-home parents, be married, childless or have children already, own a home or be rich, but none of these are true.” Foster families are diverse, says Page Sander, they just need to “have room in their homes and hearts and be willing to partner with the agency and biological families in caring for kids while the parents are rectifying the issues that brought them into foster care. We are open to people who are into learning and who love kids.” The Michigan Department of Human Services is always looking for good foster parents. If you are interested in finding out more information, contact a Foster Care Navigator at 1-855-MICHKIDS or visit www.michigan.gov/hopeforahome.