116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Over the last seven years, Kim and Scott Wesbrook have welcomed nine babies into their southwest Cedar Rapids home.
They've cared for them, changed their diapers, fed them bottles, gotten up with them in the middle of the night and rocked them to sleep.
None of those babies were their own children. The Wesbrooks are foster parents, caring for children who need a safe place. Some were in their care for days, some for months.
Taking in these babies hasn't always been easy, but it has always been worth it, Kim said.
'I think everybody has a way to make the world a better place, and at this point in my life, for me and my husband, this is ours,” she said.
The need for parents like the Wesbrooks is great. In Eastern Iowa, between 400 and 600 children are in need of foster care each year, with an average 400 to 450 foster homes currently licensed to take them in, said Kai McGee, effectiveness manager with Four Oaks Family Connections, which coordinates foster families.
More families are needed because not every home can take every child and families cycle out every year, McGee said.
The need also includes greater geographic diversity of homes so children don't have to switch schools or day cares, as well as homes that can take in groups of siblings and different ages of children - babies, children or teenagers. Four Oaks also is looking for more foster parents of color and LGBTQ foster parents, she said.
'Really what we're looking for are people who are able to provide very safe, loving, stable homes for kids,” McGee said.
Adopting and fostering
When the Wesbrooks first got married, they had trouble having children. They talked about adoption even before marriage, and Kim's sister-in-law worked for the Department of Human Services. She told them about the great need for foster and adoptive parents.
They lived in Illinois at the time and applied to be foster parents there, with the goal of adopting.
Then, almost 24 years ago, they got a call about a little boy who would become their son. He was born addicted to heroin and spent his first months of life in foster care.
He was 1-year-old when they brought him home, then three months later they took in a 5-week old girl who was voluntarily placed for adoption by her mother.
Later, they met their daughter Kamrie, whose birth mother also voluntarily placed for adoption.
When the children were ages 2, 3 and 4, the family moved to Wisconsin. Eventually, they moved to Cedar Rapids, where both Kim and her husband had grown up.
In 2012, the couple decided the time was right to start fostering again.
'It's kind of paying it forward,” Kim said. 'My kids had fabulous foster parents before they came to us. It's also a little bit of knowing what you're good at and going for it.”
With two kids in high school and one in middle school, it was a bit chaotic, Kim said, but her sister-in-law told her, 'A little more chaos won't make a difference.”
They decided to focus on taking in children under 2 because it can be difficult to find foster homes for infants. Many day cares won't take newborns, making them harder to place in foster care, Kim said. Foster parents often get such short notice that a child needs a placement that it's not easy to find someone who can drop everything to stay home with a newborn baby.
In her basement, Kim keeps boxes of every size diaper plus a supply of baby clothes in all sizes. Lining the shelves of her living room are crates of toys for toddlers. She wants to always be ready when she gets a call about a child in need.
'You need to be ready to clothe that child,” she said.
She was working as an associate substitute teacher for the Cedar Rapids Community School District, but gave up the job soon after the couple started fostering again.
Scott is an engineer in quality control at Whirlpool, and Kim said they feel blessed he is able to support them both. It makes it possible for her to stay home with the babies.
'I was working part time and did enjoy it, but then the first baby was here,” she said.
A good support system is key to making this work, she said, citing not just friends and family but also organizations like Families Helping Families.
'We have very good support. I have neighbors that come out of the woodwork,” she said. 'I'm in my 50s. When I bring home a newborn baby and they need to be fed around the clock, you have to have good support.”
As she spoke, she bottle-fed the 3-month-old living with them now. To protect their privacy, foster children's identities and photographs of their faces cannot be made public. This child is the ninth baby the Wesbrooks have fostered since they became foster parents again after moving to Iowa.
Of the nine children the Wesbrooks have fostered since 2012, only two were adopted by non-relatives. The rest either went back to their birthparents or were adopted by another family member.
Ultimately, Kim said, the goal is for families to be reunited, and with support, many parents can regain custody of their children. Some are dealing with issues like poverty and domestic violence that they just need a helping hand to overcome.
'When the foster care system really works, it can really help families,” Kim said.
She cited the case of one baby they fostered whose mother was living in her car and called the Department of Human Services for help. With assistance, the mother was able to find a job and an apartment and be reunited with her children.
'There are situations where the parents aren't going to be able to get the children back, and that's sad. As a foster parent I have no control over any of that,” Kim said. 'You don't have control over any of the legal process.”
What she does have control over are her interactions with the parents whose children she fosters, and she always wants to treat them with respect and kindness. She keeps a 'visit notebook” with updates about their child for them to read.
'Improving that communication can help them and also give them some hope,” she said. 'It's a pretty emotional situation. ...
'One of the comments I hear a lot is, ‘I can't believe their mother doesn't want them,'” Kim said. 'That's not true. Every single one of these mothers wanted their child. Some of them weren't capable of parenting them, but they all wanted them.”
A special family
Kamrie, now 22, lives with her parents and attends day habilitation services at Options of Linn County. The Wesbrook family maintains relationships with the birth mothers of both their daughters. Last weekend, Kamrie and Kim went to visit Kamrie's birth mother in Illinois.
'I like seeing her, too,” Kamrie said.
Kamrie's birth mother was even a reference for Kim and Scott when they applied to be foster parents in Iowa, Kim said. The relationship between them is important and special, she said.
'Her birth mother placed her for adoption because she loved her,” Kim said. 'She wanted to do what was best for her daughter.”
Kamrie nodded in agreement.
'Adoption is a good thing for people to do,” she said.
While her mom mixes up a bottle of formula for the baby living with them now, Kamrie holds him carefully, smiling.
It's hard when the babies leave, she said, but she still likes being a foster sister.
'It's fun,” Kamrie said. 'Foster care is fun at times, and it's hard.”
'It can be an emotional roller coaster, but it's really rewarding,” she said.
She said people sometimes comment to her that they 'would get too attached” to the babies.
That's exactly what you need to do, Kim said - you have to put the child's emotional needs above your own to do this job.
'You can't do this and not get attached. The child needs you to get attached, and yes, it is difficult even if they're going to a really good place,” she said. 'But these kids need you to be there for them now. It's an opportunity to really make a difference.”
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Learn more about fostering
Interested in learning more about being a foster parent? Call Four Oaks at (844) 380-2534 or visit iowafosterandadoption.org.