We are very pleased to have the chance to interview Janelle Velo, who has opened her heart bravely to the kids of not her own making their life just a little bit brighter. If you are ready to follow along her fostering journey, grab a box of tissue, or better hankies and keep reading.
What is your background?
I got my Bachelors degree in 2014 in English Literature and International Relations. Starting off, I had planned to have a career in broadcast journalism because of my love for writing, social justice issues and storytelling, but post-graduation, you really take any job you can get immediately. My first one was working with special needs children. I got this job because of the professional experience I already had under my belt. My family has worked in the mental health field since before I was born (my grandparents owned a group home for adults with mental and physical disabilities, and growing up, my parents owned four houses helping adults with challenges such as addiction,
Schizophrenia, ASD, and more). I was employed by an agency that had me supporting kids in a 1-1 capacity in their classrooms and in the community. All of the kids I worked with were children in foster care which eventually led me to the opportunity to become a foster care provider.
How long have you been doing Foster Parenting?
I’ve been a foster mom for 3 years.
What is Foster Parenting?
In a nutshell, it is opening your home to give shelter and security to children and youth with no parents at all, or with parents who, at that moment, are unable to provide basic care to them. It’s a grey area, a giant metaphorical waiting room for kids to continue living life, while their future is up in the air.
Fostering is embracing the concept that tomorrow is never promised, and doing what you can and all you can, with the clock ticking loud and clear every second of the day.
When you’re a parent, you have this assuming assurance that one day, you will get to see your child through all their big moments: birthdays, graduations, their wedding, giving you the gift of grandchildren. Tomorrow is never guaranteed to any of us, but with fostering, you are constantly reminded of this. You never know how long you have with these kids. Your job is to keep them safe, give them stability and opportunities for them to blossom, despite being uprooted from their foundation. Tens of thousands of kids are in foster care, with not nearly enough homes readily available to take them in.
What did your first fostering experience look like?
My first experience was a decade ago when my parents decided to open our family home to kids in care and I supported the kids in a “big sister” capacity. In September 2016, I had a place of my own and decided I wanted to open my own doors to children in need of a safe place to stay. Although I was familiar with the world of fostering, nothing can ever fully prepare you for parenthood. Two of the kids I was already working with (a sister and brother) needed a new home as soon as possible and because they already had a relationship with me, it seemed like the perfect fit. We did the paper work, certifications, background checks and homestudy as quickly as we could and a few months later, they were my first placement… but I was their fifth home. As quickly as these kids changed bedrooms, I was thrusted into new terrain that I had never navigated before (I don’t have biological kids of my own). I had to wrap my head around the fact that although this was my journey’s beginning, this was their middle.
Typically, becoming a new parent and that first ride home means leaving the hospital parking lot, with a “baby on board” sign, and Dad driving 40km/hour. Our ride home was with a protective nine year old sister and her high-functioning five year old brother with ASD. The car filled with excitement over the “newness” of it all, but other heavier emotions were palpable.
I could feel their confusion over who I really was, distrust and angst, resentment towards their social worker for the sudden move, and frustration for the lack of answers from all the adults around them. I could spend hours talking about the experience because every single case is different, let alone every single day. This particular story resulted in reunification with their biological family but the road to get there was bumpy. Having kids teaches you a lot about yourself and although there are similarities between fostering and having your own kids, raising other people’s kids disarms you of any fantasy you may have previously held about what kind of parent you imagined yourself being.
My first experience was all about putting aside judgement and my own selfish desires, had me confronting my ego and false biases, and challenged me to dig deep to find compassion, forgiveness, patience and the silver lining in even the darkest of times.y
I had to dismantle all my prior beliefs about raising kids and essentially had to raise myself to be the best human being I could be moment to moment, for these two little people who at any hour, could leave me as quickly as they found me.
What are the hardest moments in Foster Parenting?
Showing kids their new bedroom that you worked hard decorating, only for them to tear everything down from the walls is hard. But I know it’s not because they aren’t grateful, it’s because they simply couldn’t find the words to tell me they miss their old bedroom.
Having one weekend to purchase everything out-of-pocket for twin babies that you’ll be meeting on Monday is hard. But I know God’s timing is the ideal timing and when these kids need you, convenience gets thrown out the window (and rightfully so). Hearing them call you “Mama” when you know their biological mother is doing her very best to get her babies back is hard. But I know that the very fact they are developing normally and learning language is a miracle in itself. Saying goodbye is hard. Not getting to say goodbye is hard. Loving with your whole heart knowing you won’t have the honour of knowing them their whole lives is hard. But we can do hard things. These kids are counting on us to.
Why do you do it?
In the beginning of my journey, I thought my answer would be “because I love kids”. Today, my answer is because I can. I have the spare bedrooms and honestly, knowing what I know now about how families find themselves tangled in the system, I don’t know if I will ever be able to close my doors. Loving these kids is the easiest part and it happens faster than you predict. I know some people, especially those with kids of their own, wonder if they could love someone else’s the same way. My answer is, you can. I do this because everyone is fighting through battles and sometimes, kids get caught in the middle of it. No child chooses the environment they will be born into and some – thousands – need a safe haven. For as long as I can be that, I will do this heart-wrenching, humbling, rewarding work.
What does your day look like?
Each child comes with their own unique schedule so the first order of business with a new placement is centreing my own life around theirs and trying to find stability and normalcy as quickly as possible – but “normal” can change weekly. Fostering encompasses family visits for the kids, health and wellness appointments for medical or therapy purposes, afternoon activities, and frequent meetings with case workers, social workers, behavior interventionists, psychologists, writing reports, etc. For the last half of 2018, I went back to school full-time while juggling two newborn babies but right now, my current schedule is a bit more relaxed. I’m really enjoying slower mornings and long afternoons for family time or fun outtings with the kids. No matter the season of life we’re in, I begin each day with meditation and our evenings end with storytime, a family prayer and once the kids are put to sleep, I journal.
What do you like the most in fostering?
The immeasurable joy the kids bring to my life. They force me to be in the moment, and it doesn’t matter if we’re sharing belly laughs or treading through trauma. At the end of each day, I know that the love and healing happening in our home will have ripple effects far beyond comprehension.
Everyday, we’re helping them be the best versions of their selves and they’re helping me to do the same. They exemplify just how resilient the human spirit is and how deep the human heart is. Connecting with and loving a stranger uncondtionally is nothing short of profound.
What do you like? (In general!)
Writing. Reading. The beach. The mountains. Family time. Watching movies. Yoga. Fitness. Healing conversations. I like anything that makes me move and that moves me.
Do you want to have kids of your own one day?
Oh yes. I’ve dreamt about having kids since I was a little girl playing with dolls in my bedroom. I’ve always looked at moms as superheroes and knew from a young age that I was called to do that kind of heroic work. At the same time, I view all these kids as “my own” because that’s how I choose to care for them- as if they were my own.
Who is your Mother Muse?
My mom is, unquestionably. Like the ultimate Mother Earth, to mother is to bring and give life. Every day, my mom does just that to those around her. Her reach is limitless. Her love is fierece. Her care is healing. Mothers are the most valuable resource on this planet, always finding a way to replenish themselves despite being stripped to their core time and time again. I simply would not be the woman I am today if it weren’t for the woman that raised me.