“When we met her, she was a lifeless infant. Now she is the best version of herself.”
That’s how OhioGuidestone foster parent Theresa Howard describes little Tia. Theresa and her husband Jerome met Tia when she was just six weeks old, with her birth mother nowhere to be found.
Tia was in bad shape and had a very grim prognosis due to her birth mother using drugs while pregnant. Doctors prepared Theresa and Jerome for a losing fight. Tia faced an uphill battle, including multiple surgeries, no control of her bowels and possible paralysis.
“We held her that night in the hospital and knew we had to do something for this little girl,” said Theresa. “We told the social worker to schedule our training because Tia was coming home with us.”
Theresa worked as a Child Support Investigator for Lorain County and saw firsthand the need for more foster families. Her sister and brother-in-law were foster parents with OhioGuidestone, so Theresa knew it was an agency that offered support and resources to its foster families.
Theresa began taking in children with medical needs. It’s a difficult, yet very important role in the foster care system, according to OhioGuidestone’s Foster Care trainer and recruiter, Holly Spencer-Trueman. And help is available.
“These kids often have medical issues serious enough to need a parent with extra training specific to their unique needs,” said Holly. “They might have a chronic childhood illness like diabetes or cystic fibrosis. One of the great assets of our unique program is that we have a nurse on staff fully dedicated to our foster families. If you have a child with medical needs in your home you can count on a close working relationship with them.”
Not all OhioGuidestone foster homes cater to children with medical needs. Some homes accept children with treatment level needs. They require high levels of supervision, very likely have their own mental health diagnosis and may need medication. For parents, it requires patience, structure and consistency in parenting style.
Nikki Schiro always knew she wanted to foster kids, but it took her many years to make the life-changing leap. In fact, a conversation over coffee with another OhioGuidestone foster parent helped her realize the time was right.
“She shared with me how OhioGuidestone provides extra resources that help both the kids and the parents,” said Schiro. “We have a weekly support group with fellow foster care parents who have experiences with the challenges I am facing in my home.”
Nikki fosters kids with treatment level needs, and says her greatest reward is seeing how children’s views on their future can change and brighten. “A boy once said to me, ‘I can’t wait until 10th grade, so I can quit school”, recalled Schiro. “Two months later, he said he wanted to get a doctorate degree, study computer science and drive a Tesla.”
Theresa agrees, saying the thing that brings the biggest smile and warms her heart is seeing kids overcome obstacles and begin to thrive. “With medically fragile kids, we so often hear they will never walk, never eat orally, but I have seen some miracles,” recounted Theresa. “And if they are able to get back to their homes, seeing them shine is amazing.”
Tia’s story is following a similar path. She is now five years old and has been adopted by Theresa and Jerome. She has endured seven surgeries and had her foot amputated. She faces more medical procedures ahead, yet she isn’t slowing down.
“She is smart as a whip and has been wheeling herself around in her wheelchair since she was the age of two,” exclaimed Theresa. “She has beat every odd she faced and is a tiny, but mighty force.”