What Love Looks Like: Therapeutic Foster Care to Adoption

Posted on January 20, 2022

When Jon and Katy Oppold brought home Travis*, a seven-year-old foster child, he did not speak.

“Travis was non-verbal,” says Jon. “No one knew if he could hear. He wouldn't react to people.”

In fact, the staff at Children’s Home Society (CHS), where he and his brother had been in residential care, thought for a while that he was deaf and mute.

Today Travis is a happy 11-year-old. He attends school, participates in activities and is a big brother to his 10-year-old biological brother as well as two younger boys, also brothers, aged six and three.

The Oppolds adopted the older two, brothers aged 11 and 12, in 2018. And they provide Therapeutic Foster Care for the two younger boys, who they plan to adopt by summer.

“We weren't able to have kids biologically, so we knew we wanted to adopt. We looked at some other options, like infant adoption, and then we were drawn to the foster to adopt,” says Katy. “We contacted CHS and started the foster process that way.”

In 2016, the Oppolds got their license to provide Therapeutic Foster Care through Children’s Home Society (CHS), at first getting their feet wet by providing respite care. In 2017 they met the oldest two brothers and provided foster care for a year, as CHS recommended.

“And then it was a pretty easy transition,” says Katy. “The boys were seven and six at the time. We really were fortunate that they were very well adapted, even after the trauma they'd been through, and fit in with us right away.”

The rewards are many

Katy teaches kindergarten at Rosa Parks Elementary. The family also operates Sunny’s Pizzeria, with one location at 26th and S. Walts Avenue, and another inside EightyOne Arcade Bar on Phillips Avenue in downtown Sioux Falls. Add four boys with their various activities, and three dogs, and you’ve got one very busy family.

Now that the adopted brothers are older, the family has spent enough time together to have inside jokes and memories of a shared past. “We can talk about memories of the past few years because we don’t have any of those from when they started walking or potty training,” Katy says.

The family growing together over time is rewarding in many ways. “It’s gratifying to see how the older two interact with the new guys,” says Jon. “It shows how they've matured.”

“It’s been satisfying to me when they have the same type of interests that we have. Because that was always my thing with having kids...I can't wait ‘til they get to the age where we can enjoy things together, mutually—whether it’s the same food or the same activities.”

“Also, just the moments when they start calling you mom and dad. That was very heartwarming because for the longest time they just called us Jon and Katy,” he says.

Jon and Katy also feel good about the progress they’ve seen in their children’s development.

“To watch them make progress has been really cool, too—just knowing that if they would have stayed in their particular situations, I'm assuming their lives would have been drastically different.”

It's not about you

Fortunately, Jon and Katy went into foster care and adoption with plenty of preparation. Still, it was an adjustment on their part.

“I think you need to get rid of your idealistic misconceptions and perceptions of what parenthood is,” says Jon. “That's one thing I appreciate about CHS—the training. They are realistic with you, and you learn from people who have been through it.”

“There were things to work through, and it's just something that you have to prepare for. It can be a little bit chaotic because things don't always go according to plan—and you don't know what the kids have seen before they came to your house.”

“I think I had really different expectations,” says Katy. “I always wanted to be a mom, so I thought, ‘oh, everything will go really well and it's going to be great.’ Obviously, that's not how it is with parenthood. But if you work past those hard moments, the end is so fulfilling,” she says.

One of the older boys wet his bed almost every night until age nine or ten. The Oppolds worked with him and helped him grow out of it.

“Our kids are not like some of our friends’ kids who have been raised in a healthy environment their whole lives—who can stay home alone or cook supper for you,” Katy says. “And so those expectations, those high bars, have to be brought down to the appropriate level. It’s not that they can't do all the things. They're just going to do all the things at their own level and their own pace.”

“It's really rewarding, but it's also just remembering it's not really about you,” Katy says. “It's about what you can give to the children.”

Self-awareness and self-care

Parents trained through CHS to provide Therapeutic Foster Care and adoption learn a great deal about child development, trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Part of this training is looking within to understand your past’s impact on you today.

“In one of our trainings, they advised us to work on ourselves first,” says Katy. “Sometimes you can unearth things in your own past that can explain your triggers.”

“You don't know why certain things are going to trigger you and it happens. And then you must figure out why are you so upset when, for instance, the child doesn’t put their plate away. What happened to you that you're upset about that?”

Many parents, whether biological or adoptive, have similar experiences. But without the training, they may not know how to handle the feelings.

“Your trauma can come out in these kids' trauma,” Katy says. “But you're the adult with the skills and the mindset to work through your own trauma. Then you can be a better person to help the kids through their trauma.”

Jon agrees. “This whole experience has really aided the two of us with our self-awareness and being able to regulate ourselves and self-examine when we're interacting with the kids.”

Advice to others

Jon says, “The advice I would give to people interested in foster care to adoption would be: Don't have an idealistic fantasy of what it could be. You’ve got to roll with it and make a commitment and follow through with it—because we had some hard moments in the beginning. Sometimes the kids are testing you and making sure that you're stable and you're going to be there for them. And sometimes they do that by doing things that you wouldn't want them to do.”

“It's been very rewarding—for us, going through the trauma of not being able to have kids and then getting some that we love with all our hearts.”

“One thing I would say to people with infertility issues is that you have options,” he says. “There are kids who need your help—and to let go of that notion that they have to be birthed by you to be yours.”

*Name changed to protect privacy.