Oklahoma City, OK
When Tara Zaloudek’s stepsister had her first child in 2013, Tara became not just a devoted aunt, but someone who realized she wanted to fill her own home with children. As a single woman in her thirties, she knew she would have to explore alternatives to the traditional route for starting a family. Tara visited with a fertility specialist and looked into international adoption but nothing felt quite right. She turned to foster care when it seemed liked the stars aligned to have her consider it as both a way to meet her own needs while simultaneously addressing a crisis in her community. “With my Christian background and beliefs and my awareness of the foster care crisis,” Tara says, “fostering was the most logical thing to do.”
Tara’s Oklahoma City church, Crossings Community Church, played a large role in helping her see both the need for foster families and the way she could step up as a foster parent. “Fostering is a big ministry at our church,” Tara says. Several Sunday sermons were devoted to the foster care crisis and how individuals and the church as a whole could help address it. One Sunday each year the church’s atrium would be filled with tables staffed by several local foster agencies, offering information and guidance in between services. Crossings Community Church also became a Safe Families site, where biological parents can arrange to place their kids temporarily when they are unable to care for them without having them officially removed from their care and entering the system. The church also hosts a weekly support group for foster care families.
Once Tara began considering becoming a foster parent, she suddenly noticed how much fostering had already become part of her life.
“They say when you drive a Honda, you start seeing Hondas everywhere,” Tara says, and that is just how it was with fostering. A good friend of hers from high school
started making social media posts about fostering. Her cousin and his wife started fostering a child. The preschool class that Tara taught at her church’s Sunday School included several foster children. The foster agency that her friend used and recommended to Tara, Angels, was a building she passed every day on her commute but had never noticed before. She then learned that a family friend was one of Angels biggest donors. “I started seeing it everywhere,” Tara says, “and it confirmed that it is what I should be doing.”
She called Angels on a Friday and learned that their quarterly informational meeting was scheduled for the very next week. Tara filled out the paperwork that night. After deciding she wanted to move forward, things moved very quickly. She passed a home inspection, completed twenty to twenty five hours of training on a computer plus one full Saturday of in-person training, got certified in CPR, and completed an intense and thorough questionnaire that was, she says, “like a long counseling session with the case worker.” One more home safety study ensured that her home was child-proofed and she then signed a contract saying she was ready. Her home was open for a child to be placed. She was also asked many specific questions about what kind of child she would be willing to accept. One with AIDS? With seasonal allergies? ADHD? One who had been sexually abused? She was also given the option of picking an age range (she chose 0-2) and a gender (she was fine with either) but not a race.
Tara expected there to be a long wait, because she was told that there is a lot of demand for babies over older children. She was okay with waiting because everything had happened in a flurry and she needed time to emotionally prepare and get herself as ready as her house was for a child. But two days later, she got a call that a two year old boy named Zaiden was ready to be placed with her. He was also told that he was African American, part of a sibling group of four, fully potty trained, and he had no behavorial issues.
“I really wanted to say no,” Tara recalls. “Because it was really scary. But I said yes.”
A few hours later, a case worker from the agency brought Zaiden over with the clothes on his back and a happy meal he was eating. She left after twenty minutes and Tara was thrust into motherhood. Zaiden initially adjusted better than she did. He had been removed from his biological parents at nine months old and had been in custody ore than he had been in his own home. “He walked in like he owned the place,” Tara says.
At first, Tara was overwhelmed and exhausted. She didn’t even know how to install Zaiden’s car seat, let alone know how to handle the myriad other things he needed. She was told that he wouldn’t be with her long because relatives would likely take him in or he would be reunified with his siblings, and Tara was totally fine with that. “I wouldn’t have told them I couldn’t do it any longer,” she explains, “but I would not have minded at all if he was removed from my care.” As the months went by, things got easier and Tara felt more comfortable with her new role. “At one point,” she says, “he just became part of my life.”
And she grew to love Zaiden. His early years were defined by chaos and change, and he never knew what was going to happen next in his life. Tara has filled his life with routine and consistency. He has a strict schedule. And he has thrived. He has bonded with Tara’s nieces and nephews and her parents, he loves school, and he sometimes refers to Tara as mama. This is not something she has encouraged (even though it melts her heart every time) because she knows that reunification with his biological mother has always been the goal.
When she was told, at one of his court dates, that they were working towards adoption, she was hopeful. But the next court date, Zaiden’s biological mother was back in the picture and adoption was off the table, with reunification the goal again.
After a year of supervised visits with his mother at the foster agency, Zaiden and his siblings have now progressed to weekend visits with their mother. Tara knows his last day with her is quickly approaching.
Tara is very conflicted. She is devastated to lose Zaiden. “It feels like my child is being taken away from me,” she says. And she is concerned that the courts seem exclusively concerned with a child’s physical safety, but not his emotional well being. But she also knows that Zaiden’s biological mom loves him and is doing the best she can with the cards she’s been dealt. Tara desperately wants to stay in touch with Zaiden and be a presence in his life, especially since she worries that he will feel abandoned and won’t understand why she is no longer with him, but she is not sure if his mom will allow that. She has had to accept that she has no control over what comes next and can only hope for the best.
She is also conflicted about fostering again. She worries about how her family, who were so supportive of both her and Zaiden, will be impacted and she feels responsible for their grieving process. She also has concerns that fostering another child will feel like a betrayal, as if she is replacing Zaiden. But her gut tells her she will foster again.
Tara wants those of you who are considering fostering to know that you don’t have to be the perfect parent or person to be a foster parent. “You don’t have to have the most money, go to church the most often, or have the most patience,” Tara says. “I certainly have none of those.” She thinks there is often a misperception that foster parents are stronger than others or more religious than others, but she says that is not the case. “The only thing that sets us apart is the courage to say yes,” Tara says. “And anyone can do that.”
Tara wants those of you who are considering fostering to know that you are strong enough. You can do it. As long as you have a heart for children you can do it. If you are thinking about it, you should do it. “Someone has to do it,” Tara says. “If someone doesn’t do it, what happens to these kids?” She knows firsthand that whatever hardship you feel is worth it because it is better for us as adults to handle the pain than these kids. They deserve to feel safe and loved and part of a family.
And Tara has no regrets. As hard as losing Zaiden will be, she knows his life is on a better trajectory because of the stability and love she was able to give him. And her life has been enriched as well. She learned how strong her support system is, and that her tribe has her back. “And he made me a mom,” she says. “I don’t know if that was in my future or not if I hadn’t done this.” Fostering Zaiden also made Tara live in the moment a whole lot more, not only because a toddler will do that to you, but also because there is nothing about fostering that is absolute. “Nothing is guaranteed,” Tara says, “so you appreciate each day, each moment.” Fostering also opened Tara’s eyes to a side of society that she had chosen not to know about, and she now finds herself to be less judgmental. “Zaiden’s mom is a good mom who got caught up in a life that is the only life she knew,” Tara now realizes. “But that doesn’t make her a bad person”.
Tara has found herself thinking about a quote she read years ago:
All of us are born with the same ability but not all of us are born with the same opportunity. She has found it very rewarding and satisfying to be able to play a role in making things a little bit better. “We need to take care of those less fortunate,” she says.
Want to learn more about fostering?
This is the agency Tara used in Oklahoma City, OK (there are similar ones in every state) https://angelsfosterokc.org
Another good link for explaining the process is https://wehavekids.com/adoption-fostering/Tips-For-Someone-Considering-Foster-Care