By Tyler Wilson
Leah Moeller first came to foster parenting with the idea of giving back.
“I have all this background in education and mental health, and I really wanted to give back to the community and use my education,” Moeller said.
She came from a self-described “traditional” family - her parents have been together for more than 35 years, and her extended family is large and supportive.
“This was my way to… fill my own heart with being a parent, and kind of honoring my parents in how they raised me,” Moeller said. “My boyfriend has a teenage son, and he was definitely open to the idea of fostering. So I took that and hit the ground running.”
The application process began with filling out a packet of information, followed by interviews and preparation classes (see our “Ask the Expert” feature with Lindsay Williams for more information on the Idaho foster program process).
“It’s a long process, but it’s purposeful,” Moeller said. “They want to know if you are serious or if you are a flake.”
Their first placement ended up being an elementary age student who stayed with them for a year and a half.
“We were very nervous in the beginning not knowing who was going to come through your door,” Moeller said. “This kiddo was an adventure and a fantastic addition to our family. And you treat the kids as they are family.”
Though it isn’t always the case, Moeller said it’s important, when necessary, to work with the biological families of the foster children in order to work towards reunification.
“Every situation is different, but (generally) my role is to join with that family and to help them with their darkest time,” Moeller said. “I love it when bio parents see me as an ally. I am only there to provide the child with a nurturing environment and help them work toward getting their kids back.”
Moeller agrees strongly in how the State of Idaho makes reunification a priority, and she believes those interested in foster parenting shouldn’t fear the process of helping a child return to their family. Letting go, she said, is part of what makes the process special and important.
“My biggest pet peeve is hearing people say, “Oh I could never do that. I couldn’t give up the child,’” Moeller said. “But it’s about knowing the parent worked so hard to maintain their family system and worked so hard to make the necessary changes. That kid gets to go back to their family and wants to go home. It’s a good thing to say goodbye to our kiddos.”
And saying goodbye doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye forever.
“It depends on how you foster your relationship with the parent as well as the child, but you are able to maintain that relationship after they go back,” she said.
Moeller has now been a foster parent for about four years. She said the support system that began from the initial application and training continues to be a valuable asset to the fostering process.
“(In the classes) you meet other foster parents, and that is huge. There’s so much support you get from other foster parents, from peer mentors and your caseworkers,” Moeller said. “Just knowing you’re not alone, because your friends and neighbors may know you as a family, but they don’t know what it means to be a foster parent. It is different, and you do have to parent a little differently.”
Moeller believes many people have the strength to be foster parents, and those people shouldn’t let fear of growing attachments stop them from being part of the process.
“I think any parent who can really focus on their role in providing (a child’s) social safety, no matter for how long or how short, they will be an amazing asset for our community,” she said. “It’s knowing that in this moment, in this time, I’m provided an opportunity to show this child a different way a family can function.”