Mark and Chastity Gomez, foster parents in Centennial, haven’t been largely impacted by the pandemic, but Mark imagines that many foster kids, especially older ones, may struggle with behavioral issues amid restrictions on schools.
“Sending kids to school was a necessary break,” and now kids don’t have that, Mark Gomez said.
Without having community around the Gomez family to encourage its kids, “you can feel” the difference, Chastity Gomez said.
“It’s more emotional than the logistical aspects of everything, an emotional disconnect that’s been harder,” Gomez said.
While the state has not heard of an increase in children moving from their homes due to factors directly related to COVID-19 — its data system doesn’t track removals in that way — the pandemic highlights the importance of recruiting more foster families, said Joe Homlar, director of the state Division of Child Welfare.
Often, a family is involved with child welfare for a number of co-occurring reasons, such as mental health challenges, domestic violence, substance use or lack of resources to meet basic needs, Homlar said.
“Unemployment itself is not child abuse and neglect, but it could increase other risk factors and create stress for parents during an already stressful and uncertain time,” Homlar said. “All parents need help from time to time, but it is more important now than ever to reach out and offer to help.”
About five years ago, preacher Mark Gomez delivered a sermon about brokenness in communities. He and his wife felt passionately that families with strained relationships should be put back together.
When a friend adopted a baby, the couple heard about the importance of foster families and adoption, and that resonated with Gomez and his wife, Chastity.
“Statistics were blowing my mind about how many kids are in the (foster) system,” said Chastity Gomez, who, like her husband, didn’t have exposure to the system until then.
Across Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson counties, more than 1,000 children are in foster care and 40 children are awaiting an adoptive family on average at any given time, according to Arapahoe County’s website — and the counties have less than 150 foster families to try to meet that need.
The foster system provides temporary housing for youth who are separated from parents by local officials due to neglect, addiction, domestic violence or other problems in a family. Children in the system can live with relatives or foster parents, and it can involve group homes, shelters or other facilities, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Youth in poverty and racial minorities are over-represented, and older kids have a harder time finding homes because they tend to have more significant trauma, Mark Gomez said.
“There’s an overwhelming number of teens who they can’t get placement for,” Gomez said.
The Gomezes — married for 18 years — started down the road to becoming a foster family about half a decade ago, trudging through paperwork, training and a house inspection. Officials interviewed them and their biological children to see how stable they were as a family.
After about six months of preparation, they started as a foster family in August 2015. The Gomezes, both 41, live in west Centennial. Mark is a pastor at Sola Church in Littleton and an IT consultant full-time, and Chastity works for a real-estate company.
In the past five years, they’ve fostered nearly 20 children and youths — at one time having eight kids under one roof, including their four biological kids — and several kids have only stayed with them for up to a couple weeks. Almost all of them were able to find a family member to live with, Chastity Gomez said.
They entered into foster care not with adoption in mind, but one girl, Aubriana, came to them when she was about 10 days old in foster care. Her mother struggled with addiction. Aubriana was reunified with her mother for about a month and then was brought back to the Gomezes, who adopted her.
Aubriana is now 4 years old, and the Gomezes have “an amazing relationship with her mom,” Chastity Gomez said.
“It’s just amazing to see how far she’s changed and how resilient she’s been,” Gomez said. She added: “Fostering is more than helping these kids — it’s showing glimpses of what family and community could be.
“It’s not just me raising your kid. It’s us co-teaming it.”
“We’re going to raise her together,” Gomez said. “I have enough love in my heart to say you’re her mom and I’m her mom.”
The family’s four biological kids — all who are in their teens or pre-teen years — have to “share their mom and dad, and that’s hard in a big family,” Chastity Gomez said. She and her husband take care to spend time with them, and friends in the community play a role in supporting their kids.
The kids’ “empathy has increased for people’s stories and where they come from,” Chastity Gomez said. “I’ve seen that (grow) in them over the past five years.”
When a foster child moves on from the Gomez house, “there’s always tears,” and the family takes a month or two without fostering to grieve.
“It’s our (whole family) that fosters, not just me and Mark,” Chastity Gomez said.
As part of National Foster Care Month, the Colorado Department of Human Services is recognizing “five exceptional foster families for their commitment to helping families and kids,” a recent news release said. The Gomezes are one of those being honored. They have “created lasting relationships” with many of the kids they have cared for, the release added.
“Mark and Chastity are also mentors in the local foster care community, participating in foster care panels, information nights and foster parent training,” the release said.
Having a “huge community around us” that provides emotional support, meals, transportation and babysitting is part of what enables the Gomezes to foster, Chastity Gomez said.
“Even though you yourself might never want to foster, you can support a foster family,” she added. “None of us can do this by ourselves.”
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