By Jennifer Coburn
Angels Foster Family Network’s mission is to eventually get its foster children back with their biological family. Angels’ foster parents are inclusive with the network being made up of single parents, same sex couples, retirees, dual professional couples, stay at home couples and military families. Foster parents in the Angels’ network come from all walks of life, regardless of political views, religious preferences and cultural backgrounds.
Dedicated to ensuring infants and toddlers in foster care throughout San Diego County get the best start in life, this non-profit was founded in 1998 by Cathy Richman, a volunteer with the San Diego County foster system. Richman served for five years as a Court Appointed Special Advocate.
Angels’ believes that infants and toddlers are better served when placed with one foster family until they can be reunited with their biological families. Foster parents are only given one child or sibling set at a time. Many of these children need special attention due to their biological family’s situation. Some infants are born with drug addiction, lack of interaction with adults, so foster parents are trained in trauma care. They get support through the Angels’ network and are actively involved with the biological family, regardless of their circumstances.
When Jayme and Ashley Vella talk about how much Pete, their first Angels foster care placement loved bedtime stories, neither hesitated to recall his favorite. The toddler absolutely adores the titular canine from the David Shannon’s “Good Boy, Fergus!” picture book series.
Jayme Vella smiled broadly as she recalled how Pete would sit on her lap and laugh when she asked about whether Fergus liked to be tickled.
“He loves Fergus,” said Ashley, adding that Pete memorized every word of the books.
This is a far cry from how Pete responded to stories when he first arrived at the Vella home when he was 15 months old. He walked around the room and seemed unable to sit still. Sometimes he’d bite. But the consistent love and care he received from Jayme, Ashley, and their son Jackson, helped shape him into the secure and well-adjusted 3-year-old he is today.
Sitting in their spacious home in a new housing development in Fallbrook, Jayme remembers a time early in Pete’s stay when she picked up the toddler from preschool.
“He saw me from across the playground, and shouted, ‘Mommy, you came back!’” she said. “It’s amazing to see a child go from being withdrawn and not knowing you, to complete trust.”
That trust was built through establishing a consistent routine and safety net.
“We told him he can yell and scream, and we’re going to still be here and keep loving him,” Ashley explained.
Soon the toddler began to feel safe and secure. This isn’t to say things were easy.
7-year-old Jackson was elated to hear that he was going to be a big brother, but the realities of going from only-child status to sibling had its challenges. The couple dealt with this by carving out one-on-one time with each child, in addition to their family activities like hiking, camping, soccer and baseball. And, of course, Pete’s initial crying and pushing felt like a rejection of Jackson. Soon, however, the two formed a solid brotherhood.
Jayme said Jackson learned a great deal from the experience — including putting away his dishes because he saw little Pete doing it.
“Fostering can be so beneficial for your own kids,” Jayme said.
Pete was recently reunified with his biological family, which was hard on everyone in the Vella family.
“People think it might be hard to bond with a child who’s not yours, but that’s easy because they really need you,” Jayme said.
Saying goodbye was tough, but the family knows that their time with Pete will play a big role in the child’s emotional development. Plus, they still have regular visits with him and plan to stay connected throughout his life, as many Angels families are able to do after reunification.
“It’s hard, but in the end, it’s worth it,” Ashley said. “There are a lot of laughs and a lot of cries.”
For more information on getting involved with Angels Foster Family Network go to bit.ly/2HBRu4D.
— Jennifer Coburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.