SAN DIEGO — We are honoring a group of six extraordinary women who have been fostering children in San Diego County for decades.
We recognize these Foster and Adoptive Resource Parents as true Unsung Heroes. Collectively, they have provided a comfortable, safe home for an astounding number of children.
"I've been a foster parent for almost 20 years now," said Emma Tidmore, who adopted one child and fostered nearly 40 children. She also has one biological daughter.
Rhonda Oliver, a former social worker who wanted to keep giving back after she retired, has fostered more than 50 children over the past 17 years. She and her husband have adopted five children.
Kania Webster and her husband have also adopted five children and have fostered more than 50 children. She continues to mentor foster youth and foster families.
"I'm not even really sure when I got my license, it was so long ago," said Patty Boles, who's lost track of exactly how many years it's been since she began fostering children.
Over the past three decades, Patty and her husband have fostered more than 100 children, have adopted 11, and have one biological child. Patty is President of the North San Diego County Foster Parents Association and runs the Straight From the Heart charity which is in danger of closing by the end of the year due to lack of revenue and funding during the pandemic.
Incredibly, Maryann Paschal has fostered more than 400 children and adopted nine daughters. Her parents used to foster, and now she and her seven siblings are all doing the same. "It's just our culture and our way of life," she said. "We don't really think too much of it, that's just what you do."
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Deb Stolz began fostering 36 years ago and adopted four children. She was the President of the San Diego County Foster Parent Association which is also in jeopardy of closing by the end of the year due to the pandemic.
Deb headed the charity n El Cajon until her tragic death in July. A few days after our interview, Deb and her 37-year-old daughter Lisa were murdered by the father of Lisa's six-month-old baby.
Deb's family has given us their blessing to tell her story, which we dedicate in her honor.
Protective Services Worker Nicole Espinosa says these women have shown unmatched dedication, commitment and compassion through the years, and also during the pandemic, which has posed additional challenges.
"Resource parents, are unsung heroes all the time, but especially during this COVID crisis, I think they have really gone above and beyond," Nicole reflected.
"They're caring for kids who've experienced trauma and are not getting a break because they're at home 24/7. These women are supporting other foster parents, relative caregivers and families that are kind of struggling during this time."
Emma said the pandemic has been challenging for the children. "The kids are starting to get really antsy, you know, having to be indoors. So we're trying to just be creative in how we can have them entertained, in our homes, in our backyards."
"We're looking at trying to keep kids mental health school work, visits, you know, all of that," said Debbie, who stressed the importance of trying to keep the children's lives as normalized as possible in a very abnormal time.
Through the pandemic, these women have continued to be advocates and champions for foster children. All of them also mentor and support other Foster and Adoptive Resource Families with San Diego County.
The logistical complications have posed unique challenges.
"Our last foster child, we actually drove her out and dropped her off in Texas at grandparents when COVID hit, because she couldn't fly," said Kania.
There have also been safety concerns surrounding family visitation.
"The impact on our families has never been greater," said Patty. "It's just a tough tough time."
"We have a lot of homes that are uncomfortable bringing children into their home because of COVID," said Rhonda.
The apprehension has led to a drop in the number of Foster and Adoptive Resource Families at a time when children who are facing so much uncertainty need it most.
"There's a need," said Kania. "We really need families willing to come in and take our kids. Maybe even volunteer if you're not able to take kids in your home."
The COVID-19 crisis has these women working harder than ever, but they all agree it's the children who deserve the real credit
"Honestly, the real unsung heroes are the children," said Deb. "Their resilience, their ability to get through the horrible things of being removed and things that have brought them in-- that makes them the real unsung heroes and we are just along for the ride."