Erin and Nathan Jones love their children – all of the ones that have come through their door over the past decade or so, that is.
The couple is one of more than 90 foster families in Chatham-Kent and the Joneses were recently named foster parents of the year.
Erin said the announcement caught them off guard.
“We were quite surprised. We know there are so many great foster parents,” she said. “It is really nice to be mentioned, but there are a lot of great people doing some wonderful things. This is a big honour.”
Marlo Shaw-Merlo of Chatham-Kent Children Services (CKCS), echoed Erin’s remarks.
“We have some really awesome parents here. Every year, it is so hard to decide,” she said.
Marlo said the criteria includes being a foster family for more than five years, and being actively involved, working well with CKCS, working well with the biological families and the kids, representing the agency in a professional manner and helping to positively transition the children back into their homes or into adoption.
The Jones are the proud parents of four children – two boys and two girls – all of whom came into their lives through the foster program. The oldest is 11 and the youngest is two and a half.
Erin, speaking during naptime for the youngest, said she and Nathan became foster parents with plans to adopt, and it obviously worked out well.
“We were looking to adopt. Our sons were placed with us,” Erin said.
She said for a time the couple considered just being typical parents, but that didn’t last.
“After taking parental leave, I went back to work for a short time, but I really missed the kids. From that time on, I decided to be at home with the kids and for us to foster more,” she said.
Erin said the foster program has meant a great deal to them over the years.
“I feel pretty lucky. They (their children) are beautiful, intelligent, well-rounded kids,” she said. “I still shake my head and can’t believe how lucky I am.”
The Joneses began by fostering two children at a time, but Erin said as they adopted their children, they cut things back. They have no placements at the moment, but are still in a position to take one foster child at a time.
She encourages others to open up their homes and their hearts to foster children.
“It has certainly blessed our lives,” Erin said of foster parenting. “I’d highly recommend it. Even if you just enjoy children and want to do a good thing for your community, or if you’re looking to grow your family.”
Erin admits it can be difficult saying goodbye to foster children after they become part of your family.
“It’s tough. As our kids have gotten older, we noticed it affects them more. It makes it more of a challenge,” she said.
But the rewards outweigh the heartache.
“It’s a great feeling when you can have a child return to their family and feel great about helping that process along,” Erin said. “And the feeling of being there for someone who needs your help…some have only been here for a night; some for three years. I don’t know if it gets any easier, it is just different every time.
“Every child who has been here has brought something positive to our lives.”
Marlo said CKCS is always looking for more foster families, as there are currently 222 children in the foster system locally.
“We like to be able to match the children with families – for their needs, their culture, etc.,” she said. “ Some (parents) are better with behavioural issues. Some find teens can be difficult. Some prefer teens because they are more independent.”
To get involved, Marlo urges people to contact CKCS at 519-352-0440. There is a foster family information night Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at CKCS, which is located at 495 Grand Ave. W., behind the YMCA and beside the courthouse. The next foster info night takes place Jan. 27, same time, same place.