Foster Families Have Their Day in Sun at County Picnic
When they became foster parents six years ago, Ann and Jed Kusick agreed to care for as many children as they could, temporarily, but never to adopt them.
“We promised each other we wouldn’t take on a whole bunch of kids on a permanent basis,” Ann Kusick recalled Sunday. “We didn’t think we could. Instead we planned to keep our home open to all the children who needed us, just until they could get into a home for good.”
Predictably, the Kusicks’ plan failed. The Tustin couple are now the adoptive parents to three children--ages 4, 5 and 6--the very first children to come through their foster home doors.
“Before we knew it, we had a family on our hands,” said Jed Kusick, a Newport Beach high school teacher. “We all came together and that was it.”
The Kusicks’ story is typical of Orange County’s 637 foster families, hundreds of which turned out for an annual picnic Sunday at Irvine Regional Park. They gathered in the shade of towering pine trees, on blankets or folding chairs and at tables, while county officials flipped burgers on a grill and giddy children darted between game booths and cotton candy stands.
One 6-year-old with pigtails raced over to her foster mother, Suzanne Walter, and waved a paint-splattered card at her. “Mommy, look!” she cried. “I just made this for you.”
Walter, 42, wrapped an arm around the girl and examined the spin-art. “That is so very nice, sweetie. We’ll hang it right on the refrigerator for everyone to see, OK?”
Satisfied, the girl pecked Walter on the cheek and skipped away. “Those are the moments that make it so, so worth it,” Walter said of the child she has cared for since infancy and now hopes to adopt.
To social services officials trying to place thousands of children in homes each year, foster parents are “angels with extra big hearts,” said YMCA Program Coordinator Carol Rawe.
“Let’s face it, these people are taking on problems when they take these kids. . . . And yet the foster parents give and give and give nonstop. They truly are amazing people,” Rawe said.
Said Michael Riley, the county’s children and family services director: “Even if they kept every kid they could, which many do, we’d still need more foster parents to fill the need.”
Regina Markwardt said she became a foster mother 11 years ago after her two sons had left the house and she started “longing to have another baby.”
Since then, Markwardt has cared for 30 children, four of whom have lived with her since they were infants.
Markwardt and her husband, Frank, have established guardianship custody of those four children, two girls and two boys, and recently welcomed a fifth foster child into their Santa Ana home.
The family is a diverse one; the Markwardts and two of their children are African American, while 11-year-old Valroy is white and Alex, 9, is Latino.
“It’s a very diverse, multiracial family unit, but none of us even see that or feel that at all,” Regina Markwardt said, glancing at the children huddled on a blanket.
“They are brothers and sisters and they are very protective of each other. It’s a wonderful thing to be part of.”