SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)–November is National Adoption Month, a time to celebrate the families that have grown through adoption but also raise awareness for the many children who are still waiting to find their forever families.
In South Dakota there are currently more than 1,650 children in the foster care system, with 300 eligible for adoption. But who ends up parenting those children still waiting, especially those who have struggled to succeed in a traditional foster care setting?
Autumn Dalton has been a mom for 19 years, but four years ago she and her husband moved to South Dakota with the goal of adding a new role to parenthood.
“We never had a boy, my husband was always wanting boys, now we have six boys and three girls. It’s a lot, but it’s been the greatest thing,” Dalton said.
Now Autmn’s daughters always have six brothers…
“Some days they love it, some days they hate it. They fight like siblings do,” Dalton said.
…but their siblings can change at any given time.
“We are a therapeutic foster home,” Dalton said.
“Abbott House is an agency that provides healing care for kids all over South Dakota,” The Abbott House Executive Director Eric Klooz said.
Abbott House has been in Mitchell for nearly 85 years, but what started as a residential treatment program for girls grew into another new mission.
“Girls were coming and staying with us for way too long. Started working on a plan to add foster homes in South Dakota,” Klooz said.
That’s how the Bridges Therapeutic Foster Care program began.
“We would call it professional foster care that we provide at the Abbot House. We actually buy our build homes and hire a married couple to live in those homes to take care of children who are placed out of places like the Abbott House or Children’s Home or Lutheran Social Services, children that are a little harder to place in traditional foster care,” Klooz said.
The Abbott House now has 8 therapeutic foster homes providing a safe, loving home setting for 48 boys and girls in the state’s foster care system.
“We provide weekly individual and family therapy, an individual therapy for the kids that are in those homes and really follow those kids for every part of their lives while they’re with us,” Klooz said.
“We get a lot of kids with a lot of trauma, and for them to trust an adult is near impossible. But once they start trusting you, it’s just eye opening really,” Abbott House foster mom Tieler Brink said.
Tieler Brink and her husband became Abbott House foster parents last year.
“I found out at a younger age that I would never be able to have my own biological children,” Brink said.
But now thanks to becoming a foster parent, she’s had a chance to dive right into the hard work that comes with taking care of a home with six kids.
“It starts the day with getting them all up for school during the school year. We do drop-offs, appointments, dental, therapy, Dakota Therapy, an endless list of things we do during the day,” Brink said.
While there are plenty of hard days, she’s also found the reward that comes with pouring your heart into a child.
“When you can’t have your own and then you come into a world where you have six daughters at the snap of a finger and they’re calling you mom and mommy can you tuck me and I love you, its just the best thing in the world, that’s the only way I can describe it,” Brink said.
While the Abbot House foster homes in Mitchell and Rapid City provide a safe home for many kids in foster care, there’s still a long list of other kids waiting for a safe home.
“There are over 200 kids that still need foster care that we know of right now. The homes that we add won’t be enough, it seems the need seems to grow every year,” Klooz said
It’s why the South Dakota Department of Social Services approached the Abbott House last year, asking the organization to bring their therapeutic foster care program to Sioux Falls.
“We’ve historically served many different kids from the Sioux Falls area in our programs, we’re excited about the opportunity to be able to serve them closer to home where they have more connections and hopefully attend the same high school,” Klooz said.
The average age of kids in their foster homes are around 14 or 15.
“It’s harder to place young people that end up usually staying on a program for years longer than they should have. Our homes are really that opportunity for them to get out to experience life in a family and community,” Klooz said.
“They want to learn how to cook when I’m cooking or laundry or just the typical cleaning things. The other thing you don’t think about is having a bank account, how do you balance a bank book. I had to teach someone how to write on an envelope said,” Dalton said.
And a chance to get them on a path to a successful future.
“We want to see them succeed and we want to see them go out into the world and know how to take care of themselves, cook, clean, basic things in life you would need to learn,” Brink said.
And while many may end up aging out of foster care without ever being adopted, the Abbott House sticks with them through that transition, offering apartments for those who recently aged out.
“I would protect them with my life, they’re my kids and I would do anything for them,” Brink said.
But most importantly, these foster homes provide a mom and dad who will be with them every step of the way.
“When you do leave here, we’re still your parents. If you have a girlfriend, you want to marry her, bring her over, we’ll approve or disapprove. You want to buy a car, take dad with you,” Dalton said.
Titles that once earned…
“The most rewarding parts is when they call you mom and dad,” Dalton said.
…will forever tie families together, no matter how they came to be.
As an avid supporter of adoption and foster care, KELOLAND’s Bridget Bennett is a part of the fundraising committee working to help purchase the two future Abbot House foster homes in Sioux Falls.
There’s an informational meeting this Wednesday, November 1st for anyone interested in learning more about supporting the project or becoming foster parents in these new Sioux Falls homes. If you’re interested in attending the event, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, links to the resources to do so in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota can be found below.