What a foster family should be

Written by The SAFE Alliance

Many children in foster care have experienced trauma in some form. For a foster family to provide for their children, their approach to parenting must be nurturing, encouraging and trauma-informed.

With that in mind, the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services last month announced Richard and Gina Reyes (right photo) as Foster Parents of the Year. Nominated by the Austin Children’s Shelter, this family embodies the mission of ACS to ensure the mental, emotional, and physical safety of those receiving care. ACS Foster Family Developer Sally Fussell (left photo, standing on right) accepted the award on behalf of the Reyes family. Executive Director of ACS Campus-Based Intervention Service Stacy Bruce (left photo, standing on left) presented the award.

Get to know the Reyes family

Richard and Gina demonstrate a calming presence and a unique wisdom that comes from years of experience serving children impacted by trauma. They fostered for over 10 years with another child-placing agency, served as house parents for four years with a residential treatment center, and Gina worked on campus at ACS for 11 years as Training Manager, Cottage Manager, and Trainer.

“I have seen firsthand how hard they work to make sure the boys have all of the resources they need to be successful. They do a wonderful job of setting boundaries for the boys and patiently teaching them responsibility, traits that will help them be successful for the rest of their lives.” — Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) worker

ACS has been blessed to have the Reyeses serve as foster parents for the past three years, during which time the children in their care have benefited from their investment.

The right balance

The Reyes home provides a sensory-rich environment with multiple play areas full of toys for learning and for fun. They provide opportunities for indoor and outdoor recreation so their children can release energy in healthy and fun ways. The Reyeses don’t waste any chance for connection and growth, using play not only for entertainment, but also to build self-esteem, foster attachment, and even develop social, communication, and self-regulation skills.

The Reyes family provides a good balance of nurture and structure, remaining calm and encouraging even during crisis and incidents of discipline. Their unconditional acceptance of the children in their home offers a safe place to make mistakes and try again. This extends through their birth children, who are encouraged to exercise compassion to their foster siblings – even when belongings are damaged, as the principle “people are more important than things” is taught and lived out in the home.

Caring extends through the community

Because of the Reyes family’s creative and sacrificial advocacy, daycare, school, and even Child Protective Services (CPS) has been able to serve their children more effectively.

For example, a 5-year-old boy in their care had been expelled from two daycares over a short period of time. This led Gina to make an agreement with a third daycare that she would pick the boy up within five minutes of being called every time a behavioral problem occurred, as long as the daycare allowed him to come back and try again every day. Through consistent repetition, this young man developed greater self-control and tremendous pride as he was able to stay longer and eventually the full day.

Richard and Gina not only serve the children, but also other parents. They have spoken with new applicants about the realities of fostering, empowering them to choose whether or not to foster. They provide insight, compassion, practical advice, and support for other foster parents. The Reyeses also serve as mentors for the birth parents of children in their care.

“The Reyes family has been over-the-top impressive in every way in their work and care for these sweet boys… I wish we could clone them a hundred times over.” — CASA supervisor

One birth mother noted how she had observed the way Gina set limits with her children in the visitation waiting area and then tried to practice the skill during her visit.

“They keep me informed on how the children are doing, as well as keeping the birth parents informed,” a CPS worker said. “The birth mother has expressed to me that she is comforted by the fact that she knows her children are in good hands and that the situation is easier to bear knowing her children are in the Reyes’ care.”

Instilling confidence through their care

There is something special about entrusting children to a family and feeling 100-percent confident that they will be loved and invested in so deeply and intentionally that they’ll have every opportunity to heal and progress.