In fall 2019, Baldwinsville teacher Colleen Dembs was beginning the school year with her new group of first graders when she received a call that changed her life forever. Aubrey, a 22-month-old, needed to be placed in a foster home for an indeterminate length of time. Saying “yes” began a journey for Dembs and Aubrey alike.
Dembs’ foster parenting story actually began years earlier, when she learned that a friend of a friend was fostering through Hillside. She was surprised to hear that being a single parent was not a barrier to becoming a foster parent. After Hillside’s home visit, she participated in a 10-week series of classes, as well as home studies and ongoing training.
Since becoming a foster mom, Dembs has taken 11 children into her home—the oldest was 12 years, and Aubrey was the youngest. Some stayed for only a day or a weekend; part of Dembs’ commitment to foster parenting has included respite care, in which a young person can stay briefly in a trusted home environment while their “full time” foster parents recharge and attend to other needs. But no matter how long they stayed under her roof, each youth received the care and attention they needed to feel safe and loved.
“The immense support from the entire Hillside team makes navigating what can be a difficult process much easier,” Dembs notes. “They approach all parties with dignity, encouraging healthy relationships with birth families, including foster parents in decision-making, and advocating for what is best for children.” Dembs also has seen how Hillside’s Home Finders “truly try and find a good match to make secure attachments.”
Over the past three years, Dembs says that she has been “truly blessed to care for Aubrey. She has grown tremendously and has brightened the lives of all she encounters. Her birth mother made the selfless decision to choose adoption for Aubrey, and she continues to be a part of our lives. As of April 2022, Aubrey and I are now a ‘forever family.’”
And, as for what kind of person makes the best foster parent? Dembs says “anyone who has a desire to love, space in their home, and space in their heart.”