Video by Kay Bennett.
Baylee Reinstein, a sophomore majoring in psychology, was taken from her biological parents at eight years old, which made for a difficult transition — but her foster family helped make the move easier by supporting her and ensuring she knew the situation she was in was not because of her.
“I had a really good experience,” Reinstein said. “They were the only stable parents I had for three years of my life, because I was only there until I was 11. They were always there for me and supported me.”
When Reinstein was 11, she moved in with her half-sister’s dad and step-mom. They became her guardians and took care of her, but the transition to a foster home was hard for Reinstein at first because she was young and didn’t understand why the things that were going on around her were happening.
“At first I started to blame myself, but my foster family showed me how great of a person I was,” Reinstein said. “They built me to be who I am today.”
Reinstein is now part of the Fostering Success Program on campus, which supports students who have experienced foster care. She said she still stays in contact with her foster parents and her biological mom, but her biological dad is out of the picture.
Being taken from one family and put into another may seem traumatizing, but it happens to many children across the nation and is oftentimes not as horrible as the stigma makes it out to be.
“There’s a lot of need for foster homes because there are a lot of foster children out there in need, and if we don’t have a place to move them to, then sometimes these children are stuck in a situation they should not be in,” said Alecia Cowper, a foster mom from Platteville.
Cowper is licensed to house up to up to nine foster children. There are currently eight kids living with Cowper and her husband — two are her biological children and two are over 18 years old. She has been working with foster children for 12 years.
Cowper said raising a foster or adopted child is just like raising a biological child — there are both struggles and triumphs.
“I tell my children, when you are in my home, I will not replace your mother but I will mother you,” Cowper said.
Debbie Ciancio, a case manager for Frontier Family Services and the Child Placement Agency, studied social work and has been working for the foster care system for 25 years. She places kids into foster homes all over the state of Colorado and is the case manger for Cowper’s family.
“They’ve been through a lot in there short life, really, from physical abuse, to other traumas in their lives and they are having difficulty of learning a different way,” Ciancio said.
She talked about the families like Cowper’s that bring in children to be a part of their families.
“Their hearts are so big, and they do so much for these kids,” Ciancio said.
Cowper said there is a stigma attached to foster homes and foster children that is oftentimes not true. Sometimes kids have just been removed from dangerous situations but are not problem kids.
“These are normal children who need a hand out,” Cowper said. “They need somebody to care about them, and they need to feel it. They need to live it. They need to learn, and they pick up so many skills without trying to teach them.”
Cowper’s 12-year-old son, Caden, who was adopted when he was four, said he was removed from his biological family because of some dangerous situations. He first entered the Cowper’s home at 16 months old.
“The reason I was in foster care was because my biological mom did some bad stuff, and she didn’t really give attention to me,” Caden said. “I was locked in a basement for hours at a time in just a crib.”
Caden’s biological mother, now called ‘Aunt Ashley’ by Kaden, has since come clean and is in contact with Caden. Caden also has a little sister, who lives with his biological mom.
“She cleaned up, it was the only way I would allow her to be a part of his life,” Cowper said.
Ciancio remembered the Cowper family’s New Years Eve party from last year. She said there was a girl sitting in the corner of the room, crying.
“She never knew a family could be like this,” Ciancio said. “It’s those moments that you think you really are doing great work, because even as they move on, they think of you.”
Cowper said there is a need for more foster families, especially in Northern Colorado. She said as long as prospective parents are willing to open up their home and their hearts, they should.
“A prospective foster home would really just be a family who would welcome a child into their home as a family,” Cowper said.
Collegian Reporter Megan Fischer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @MegFischer04.