Dickinson's Schweitzers foster families
Todd and Deb Schweitzer have taken the children of others into their home as foster parents for the past 24 years, and have raised four biological children along the way.
The Dickinson couple cites their faith and pro-life beliefs as the main inspiration for their decision in the first place.
"Part of the reason we got into foster care is because we're trying to put our actions where our mouth is," Todd said. "We believe in caring for these kids. We want to see all these children have a chance at life and to have a chance for a good life."
For more than two decades, they just did what they thought was right.
"We may not be the best parents, but we really love kids," Deb said. "We knew it was a way we could share our home and what we have with others."
Todd's parents were foster parents when he was growing up.
Area counties, including Stark County, could use more parents like the Schweitzers, especially those that will take in older kids -- tweens and teens, said Debra Trytten, foster care supervisor for Stark County Social Services.
"Teens are more difficult to deal with because their life experiences have been so much greater than what you get when you get a little child," she said. "They've probably been through a number of placements also. And they probably have not only family issues to deal with, but they may very well have some of their own."
Anyone without felonies or child abuse or neglect charges over the age of 18 can become a foster parent, if they have the resources to meet the child's needs, Trytten said.
"Of course, they need your basic things -- a bed, a dresser, closet space, a place for toys or whatever and that type of stuff," she said. "Pretty much the same things you'd want for your own child."
Foster parents can be single or married and can be licensed for one to four children, Trytten said. Children need to have their own bed, but siblings of the same gender may share a room. Non-siblings and those of different genders cannot be paired together.
There are currently 45 children in foster care in Stark County in 17 foster homes.
In their course as foster parents, the Schweitzers have cared for nearly 90 children, some for only a few days, some for longer. Less than three years ago, the couple made the decision to adopt a little girl who will soon turn 9. Their youngest biological child is 17, the oldest is 27.
"If we can give the children a loving and safe and nurturing environment while their parents heal and then ultimately those children go back to parents who are well physically, psychologically, spiritually and they can be integrated back into their family and if they can have some success, then mission accomplished," Todd said.
They see foster parenting as a ministry.
"We've always felt it was more of a -- I don't think we decided let's do foster care. I think we just kind of felt called to it," Todd said.
The calling doesn't end when the child leaves their home.
"It's not just about the children that are in our home -- it's about them first -- but often times it's about supporting their parents," Deb said, recalling one single father who looked to the Schweitzers for support and advice after his son moved back in with him for years.
"You're seeing a family succeed," she said.
Once they move into the Schweitzer home, any foster children become a member of the family.
"We take them fishing, we take them boating, they become a part of our family for as long as they're with us," Todd said. "We treat them just as we treat our own children."
Their family has been supportive of their ministry throughout the years.
"It's another grandchild, another cousin for all the cousins," Deb said. "I always think of Christmases -- my brothers, they'd be really good about calling and saying, 'Do you have an extra kid?' and making sure they get presents and not be left out."
Deb encourages anyone interested in becoming a foster parent to learn as much about the program as possible and to visit with a current foster parent, herself included.
"If people want a real sense of it, Todd and I are open to a cup of coffee, come on over," Deb said. "We're just normal people, we work, we have jobs."
Potential foster parents can get started by calling Stark County Social Services at 701-456-7675, Trytten said. There are 24 hours of classes to complete, as well as home visits. Classes are held once a season unless interest warrants more.
"I want more people to step up," Deb said. "I want someone to go 'If they can do it and they're not perfect and they're normal people, we can do it.'"