Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jeff and Wanda Harlan story

By Jan Williams
Turlock Living Magazine

Having been foster parents for Turlock children for 18 years, Jeff and Wanda Harlan describe their lives as “never boring.”

Their biological sons are both grown now and serving in the military, but they continue to foster a son, 17, and a daughter, 19, who first came to them when she was eleven years old. Having been emancipated from foster care, she has returned through the county My Home program, which helps former foster children find homes.

Both Jeff and Wanda graduated from Turlock High School, where they met and married. After graduation Jeff began his career as an electrician. Wanda worked in retail until her sons were born and she became a stay at home mom. At that time they lived in a large five-bedroom home. Jeff had grown up with foster children in his parent’s home, so it seemed natural for them to become foster parents to provide a stable home for children who needed one.

Working with Aspira, through the years they have fostered hundreds of children, ages seven to eighteen. Some of the children have spent many years with them and others only a short time until they could be reunited with their biological parents or until more permanent arrangements could be made. Besides foster homes, some children are placed in group homes, depending on their needs.

“We prefer older children, teenagers,” Wanda said, “even though it can be an age with many problems.” Besides the normal teenage problems, foster children sometimes have anger issues, gang ties, difficulty with their biological families, drug and alcohol troubles and past encounters with law enforcement. Some of the children are even parents themselves and need to be guided in taking care of their babies.

Corporal punishment is prohibited, of course. Each child is different, but their method of disciplining over the years has been to take away privileges when it was necessary.

Many of their former foster children have stayed in touch through the years, remembering them on holidays and special days. “We love being invited to weddings and seeing new babies,” Jeff said. Not all lives work out well in the beginning. Two of their former foster children are currently in jail.

The Harlans have also made efforts through the years to reach out to the biological parents of their foster children. There is a tendency for the biological parents and the foster parents to have a poor relationship with each other, but they believe that it is in the child’s best interest when there is communication and cooperation.

“As a parent you always hope you are able to care for your own child/children. In the event you can't you would want to know there are good people able to do it for you.” Wanda explained,

When foster children reach the age of eighteen, programs are available through Aspira to help them manage the transition to independent living. They also help families who may be in transition to find the necessary goods and services they need for their lives.

Besides serving as a foster mother, Wanda also works in the Aspira Pro Family program, which accepts donations and delivers them to individuals or families where they are needed. Emancipated children setting up their first apartments and families in transition often need furniture and household goods. Many times they are not aware of community resources and scholarships available to help them begin new lives.

According to Angela Moreno of Aspira, “Jeff and Wanda have been very committed through the years, They have provided a warm open family atmosphere as well as serving as advocates and helping find resources open to the children.”

Aspira is always seeking these special kinds of people to apply to be foster parents. According to Moreno, only about one out of fifteen applicants make it through the process of becoming certified.

The process includes attending orientations, completing a detailed application form, undergoing a thorough background check including fingerprinting, DMV printouts, health and financial screenings, in depth interviews, and home inspections.

To ensure the safety of the children in their care, prospective foster parents must pass courses in first aid and CPR. Homes must have a working fire extinguisher and smoke alarms. All medications and cleaning supplies must be kept locked up..

“Every effort is made to match foster children to homes where they will feel most comfortable,” Moreno said.” And every effort is made to keep siblings together.” The greatest need for foster care at this time is to provide homes for teenagers and homes that will allow sibling sets to remain together.

On-going instruction in such areas as disease prevention, nutrition, gang activities, as well as support groups and fun family activities are available to foster families.

Currently, according to Moreno, there is a strong trend toward adoptions as more adoptions are taking place in this area than foster care.

Anyone with experience with children who would like to know more about the Aspira program can call 1-800-439-1905 or 669-2577

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