Mike Core has worked with Four Oaks, a Cedar Rapids-based foster system, as a foster father. Over the past 22 years, Core and his wife, Sherry, fostered some 70 children, mostly teenage boys.
How did you get involved with being a foster parent?
There was a need for kids to have a home setting when they came out of residential treatment that may not be ready to be placed back in their homes or in a foster home. So my wife and I agreed to be contract foster care parents, which is specialized foster care for kids who have those behavioral and mental health issues that really needed a home setting to continue to make progress.
Can you talk about time as a foster father?
(It’s been) 22 years, and I’m thinking the number’s around 70 kids. Over the last 22 years, I want to say we had four teenage girls and the rest have been teenage boys.
Just looking back on things, most of these boys ... need positive male role models. That was a job I was willing to take on.
Did you ever expect to foster 70 children?
Somewhere along the line, a psychiatric evaluation may have been good because I worked in residential treatment all day and then came home and sometimes had up to four boys in our home.
I don’t think we ever intend to do those types of things, but it kind of evolved into (that).
With all these children, has your approach to dealing with kids evolved?
From the first one to the last one, I would say I’ve become a lot more patient. There’s not too many behaviors and things that I haven’t experienced with young men and women in our home.
How does Iowa foster system compare nationwide?
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Last statistics I saw, there were around 800-900 kids in foster care (in Iowa). I think that number has dropped. There’s been a big push for reunification efforts with families or extended families.
That’s a healthy thing as long as kids feel safe in their families. The trauma they experience is something they really need to understand and move toward reunification with those families, while they feel like they’re going to be safe. I think that there’s been a big push to reunite kids with families, and I think that’s why the numbers have dropped.
What’s the biggest challenge in the Iowa foster system?
There’s not enough homes for teenagers. It’s fine that we get parents that want the babies, they need homes, too. But really, there used to be a stigma of, ‘I don’t want a 14-year-old boy out of control in my home.’ Most of them, if you go back to a structure, unconditional care and safety, most of them are going to be successful.
That’s probably the biggest challenge, people understanding that there are difficult kids out there but they need homes, too.
What would you say to anyone considering being a foster parent?
The best advice I have would be to explore it. You don’t necessarily have to agree to it, and they’re certainly not going to put kids in your home who are unsafe. But to put your foot in the door and experience and see these kids who may have problems, but having a home is going to be a step in the right direction for them to get better.