Shelley and Danny Valdez decided a few years ago that they wanted to open up their home to kids who needed it, becoming foster parents.
Now, they’re being torn up emotionally as the two girls they’ve raised for about two years are about to be taken away from them to be rejoined with their birth mother.
They had just been told they might be able to adopt the pair when the courts changed the plan.
“I have no regrets,” Shelley said. “They’re the two sweetest girls in the whole world,” she said about the children placed with them, who are now 5 and 2.. The girls’ names are being withheld for their own privacy.
“I have regrets,” Danny countered. “Not with the girls, but with how the system treats us.”
Added Shelley: “I don’t want to come across as angry, but we’re in kind of a bad place now.”
But through all the court dates and home inspections and visits with the birth mom, they both still love the little girls.
“They’ve been such a blessing,” Shelley said. “But this is a lot harder than raising your own kids.”
A longstanding decision
The Valdezes have a child of their own, girl who is now 10. But Danny said he made the decision to foster and possibly adopt a long time ago.
“In high school, because my dad had been adopted,” he explained, “I thought it would be a cool thing to do.”
The two relied on their strong Christian faith to make the decision.
“I was scared,” Shelley said. “But when your husband is telling you he’s been called … God’s scarier than anything. You better listen.”
A faith-based group, Christian Family Care, helped shepherd the Valdezes through the process with the Arizona Department of Child Safety.
Its website says, “Our aim is to provide professional care and biblical counseling to these families, at no cost, so every child finds a stable, permanent home with a Christ-centered family.”
Christian Family Care is one of 25 different licensing agencies for foster parents. The agencies are responsible for the health and well-being of the caregivers. The state is responsible for the child.
On New Year’s Eve 2014, the same day they got their final certification, two girls, a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old, were placed with the Valdezes.
Since then, the family has been through the ups and downs of foster care.
“If you’re going to foster,” Shelley said, “your goal should never be to adopt. The state’s goal is to put families together. Your mindset should be to support the case plan.”
Even knowing that, the Valdezes found themselves in anticipation of adoption.
“That option was presented to us rather strongly,” Danny said.
“The case manager thought it was going to happen,” Shelley said. “We were one hearing away.”
“The decision was for severance and adoption in March. A week later, it went back,” she said.
Danny said he felt they were being pulled back and forth
“We are nothing more than a repository for the kids with very little say,” he said, exasperated. “Minimal at best.”
“Some people have treated us well,” Shelley said. “A lot have not.”
The wounds are still fresh for the Valdezes.
“We’re trying to do good,” Shelley said, “but they treat us like …”
“Second-class citizens,” Danny finishes.
“This case seems to change on a dime,” Shelley said. “It really teaches you that you have to live one day at a time. You can’t plan anything.”
“We go to court. We go to meetings. We go to everything. It’s like another job,” said Shelley, a commercial photographer. Danny is an insulation purchaser.
The stress gets to the girls, too.
“They sense our anxiety,” Shelley said. “They’re on the roller coaster, too.”
Not an unusual case
Kris Jacober, president of the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents, said that although she’s not involved in the Valdezes’ case, she’s seen this situation before.
“I was a foster mom for 15 years,” she said. “I’ve seen cases go every kind of way that I didn’t anticipate or expect.”
She said she knows the decisions made by the courts are difficult.
“As a foster parent, I felt fortunate that I didn’t have to be in the position of making the decision of what will be the best for the future of the children,” Jacober said.
“Ultimately, as a foster parent, it is out of our hands.”
Jacober warns that reunification isn’t necessarily the best decision.
“Many children who are reunified end up back in the system, and that means everybody has failed the kids,” she said.
“The goal of foster care is reunification. The bigger goal is permanency of the situation.”
Strong in their faith
Through it all, the Valdezes have found solace in their Christian faith.
“I don’t know how anybody does foster care without a relationship with the Lord,” Shelley said.
“There are so many people praying for these kids. We have to rest in that. God must know something we don’t.”
They also pray for the growth of the birth mom.
“I feel comfortable with her,” Shelley said. “She wants to be independent, but I have to show her that she can’t do it alone. She’s also growing in her faith.”
The Valdezes’ marriage has also been tested in this ordeal.
“Considering the tremendous amount of stress, we’ve been doing well,” Shelley said. “Our marriage is better now than it’s been.”
The Valdezes will lose the girls May 19 in the midst of National Foster Care Month. But they want to make sure to be a presence in their lives.
“We’ve developed a friendship with the birth mom,” Shelley said. “We want to be available to help.”
To that end, they’ve helped her by giving her clothes, furniture and transportation. They’ve even gone over to help clean her house, all to help out the girls.
“We’ll still be around,” Shelley said.
“If she allows us,” Danny counters.
Shelley said she believes they will have the mom’s permission to visit.
And if they don’t?
“Then I will sign up to volunteer at their schools,” Shelley said.
For now, the Valdezes are going through what they say is a grieving process.
“It’s a loss for us,” Shelley said. “To be grieving the girls but still parenting them at the same time is really hard.
“You want to curl up and cry, but you can’t.”
Resources for foster and adoptive parents
May is National Foster Care Month. To learn more about fostering and adopting children in need, visit these websites:
Arizona Association for Foster & Adoptive Parents: azafap.org
Arizona Department of Child Safety: dcs.az.gov/foster-care
Christian Family Care: cfcare.org
Arizona Friends of Foster Children Organization: affcf.org
National Foster Care Month resources: childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth/
National Foster Parent Association: nfpaonline.org