It takes a special person to be a foster parent.
You must be loving enough to believe that you can make a difference, but you must also be strong enough to face the heartache when it seems that you cannot.
Foster parents must face the day with a "sense of humor," said former foster parent Kelly Torrens, even when the children are "pains in the backside."
She and her husband, Darin, hosted three girls and two boys during the years they were foster parents.
One of the boys, Jason, was just two weeks old when he came into the lives of the Torrens, who were running a DES certified day care.
It was 2001.
For eight hours a day, often longer, Jason spent the next three-and-a-half of his formative years in the company of the Torrens, their daughter, Cristina, and the other children in day care.
"We ran our day care like a family," Kelly said.
Jason's mother was a teen in the foster care system when she gave birth to him. Baby Jason was lethargic due to asthma and other health problems.
FOSTER CARE SERIES
Nov. 17: The social workers.
Nov. 24: The parents.
Today: The foster families.
But "he was a bundle of love," Kelly said.
The hope of Child Protective Services was that Jason would be able to stay with his mother once she left foster care, Kelly said.
Instead, over the next three-and-a-half years Jason was passed through three foster homes and one group home.
In the meantime, the Torrens became foster parents to three girls.
"Each time Jason was moved to yet another foster home we went to the judge and said, ‘we have an opening, please let us foster him,'" Kelly said.
She is the youngest of 11 children and her parents always had foster children.
In 2003, the Torrens got their wish and their 7-year-old daughter, Cristina, had a new foster brother.
"Jason was cute as a button," Kelly said.
However, he will always have a learning delay, his speech is impeded by nasal passages that are not fully formed, and Down Syndrome runs in the family.
"PCS mom" (meaning CPS mom) was the name Kelly said Jason came to call her.
"I always showed him pictures of his natural mother," Kelly said because she and CPS still had hope that Jason might be reunited with his biological mom. But life did not work out that way.
When the rights of Jason's mom were severed, the Torrens decided they wanted to provide Jason with a permanent home.
"Adoption was a dream Darin and I shared," Kelly said. So, the couple petitioned the court.
But Darin was diagnosed with diabetes. Even with several operations, the disease took Darin's sight and seriously stressed the function of his heart, liver and kidneys.
They were about halfway through the adoption process when Darin couldn't stand the pain and took his own life.
In a day, Kelly lost her husband, her livelihood and her foster children.
It was emotionally devastating to everyone.
"We thought we were one court case away from adopting Jason," Kelly said.
Through all this, Jason's Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, was on the little boy's side.
Amidst the grief and shock, there was another foster home for Jason, and more court appearances and family interviews for Kelly and her daughter.
"The CASA kept me going when I lost hope," Kelly said. "The adoption would not have happened without CASA involvement."
Jason finally became Cristina's legal brother a few months ago.
"Now, I have this little boy who is so full of love and wants to wrestle with a dad and it's been really hard," Kelly said. "I can't offer all the things a dad could, but we are a family."
When Jason was adopted, Kelly kept his first name and middle initial.
"Jason and Cristina had a ball figuring out his name for a couple of weeks," Kelly said.
Jason Robert Spiderman Little Love Torrens was the name Jason picked.
There are rewards to becoming a foster parent, she said.
"You get to see a big difference right up front," Kelly said.
When you have a genuine interest in the child and you give the child attention and show them love, they can lose their need for a myriad of medications.
One of Kelly's grown foster children keeps in touch and shares plans for college with her.
"The bond we formed is for always," Kelly said. "She feels her own worth and is smart and confident."
But there are challenges.
In a small town like Payson, there can be awkward meetings in the store between biological and foster parents.
"You have to do a little bit of schmoozing because there can be some resentment that the child is doing better in someone else's home," Kelly said. "They may be so happy that their children are being loved and taken care of, but a part of them feels guilt.
"I think it is hard on natural parents who see their children in the community happy, laughing, walking, but it is the well-being of the child that is important."
For information on becoming a foster parent, call (877) 543-7633. For information on becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate, call Cecille Masters-Webb at (928) 474-7145.
See related story:
The foster care crossroads (Nov. 17)
Meth or Motherhood: When getting high is more important than feeding your children, foster care system steps in (Nov. 24)