Parenting — from navigating through life's obstacles to being responsible for another individual's life — isn't easy. Given that foster parents are charged with the same tasks, along with needing to meet strict governmental guidelines in the home care provided (for an often unknown period of time), that saying could easily apply to them as well.

"When we get a kiddo in foster care, they want you to treat them as your own, which is easy to do as far as taking care of them," said foster parent Brenda Stovall, "but you do have to deal with birth parents, getting the kids ready for visits, taking them sometimes to visits, case plans, court, that sort of thing."

Despite those additional duties, Brenda and her husband Don have been fostering at their home in Halstead for 17 years now — making up part of the system (i.e. foster parents, volunteers, mentors, child welfare professionals, etc.) being recognized in May as part of National Foster Care Month. While the Stovalls have three biological children of their own, they have also cared for more than 70 foster kids in that span of time, working exclusively with St. Francis Community Services.

Brenda admits to being compassionate and having a big heart, as well as an affinity for working with children. For several years, Brenda operated a day care and would have some friends bring their own foster children by, piquing her interest in the process.

Meanwhile, Don served on the Newton Police Department for nearly a decade, seeing first hand the environments of some of the children in the foster system. After working a particular case following an infant death, the Stovalls were spurred to action.

"That's where we just really felt like we needed to help," Brenda said. "It's unfortunate that happened, but that was where we thought, 'gosh, if we can save one.'"

Ultimately, the Stovalls were focused on serving strictly as foster parents and holding to the temporary arrangements, but they have adopted three of the children they have fostered and are working on adopting a fourth. Time has played a factor in that, Brenda admitted, as foster families can sometimes have kids for multiple years. Attachments are created on both sides then and it is hard to let go.

For the Stovalls, though, letting go is what they strive to do so that the children can be reunited with their biological families.

"That was our goal — to help get the children back to their biological parents if they can be," Stovall said. "For me, it's a joy that is indescribable, and what really feels good is when you can work with the parents and actually have them complete their case plan and re-integrate. That is the best feeling because you feel like you're putting the family back together."

Prior to taking in a foster child, the Stovalls work out a placement agreement with St. Francis. Sometimes they will pick up the child and sometimes they will be dropped off, but the Stovalls noted they are always treated as one of their own. Circling back to that idea of attachment, the Stovalls noted they are both happy to help the children they take in form strong, positive relationships.

"A lot of times that attachment part of it teaches them that. It teaches them what it's like to have a family, to belong to a family," Brenda said.

Knowing the situations of abuse and neglect that some of these children are coming from, Brenda noted it is also a great feeling seeing the kids regain some of their joy while with their foster family.

Working with children from age 0 to 18, the Stovalls have had foster children from all over the state — including Lawrence, Great Bend, Wichita, etc. Additionally, they are qualified to work with medically fragile foster children, like the toddler they are fostering currently (along with three other children).

Suffering from spina bifida, a birth defect where the bones of the spine don't properly form around the spinal cord, Brenda said the toddler is now walking, just another rewarding part of working in foster care.

Once out of the system, the Stovalls noted some of their foster kids will come back to visit with them, but there are still more than 400,000 youth across the country in need of help through foster care currently. They continue to offer their services and encourage others to consider being a part of the foster care system given how rewarding it can be.

For more information on getting involved in foster care and the programs offered, call St. Francis Community Services at 620-615-1063.