Koeller family opens home and hearts to foster children
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
After having children Sam, Max and Ruby, parents Tricia and Ryan Koeller thought they were done having children. But then, their kids started growing up. So, two years ago, the couple, who lives in McGregor and has been married 13 years, looked into adoption and foster parenting.
“Initially, we just wanted to adopt,” Tricia said. “I didn’t think I could give them back, but then the way you think about it changes. Now you just want to give them a place to be for a week or a month.”
Ryan and Tricia did adopt first, welcoming Ty and Laiya to the family, but then they decided to open up their home, and their hearts, to foster children.
So far, the couple has fostered at least eight children—ranging in age from a baby to a teenager. The kids have stayed for as little as two days—giving respite to another foster family—to as long as four months. Tricia admitted taking on a teenager was a challenge.
“I was not prepared for a teenager,” she said. “At first, you shouldn’t go older than your oldest kid, but, as the kids get older, you can handle more.”
Ryan and Tricia’s decision to start fostering wasn’t a quick or easy one. They talked about it for several months. The process to get certified is also lengthy, so it gave them plenty of time to think about it along the way.
“I was afraid for our kids’ safety and our home,” Tricia admitted. “If we hadn’t gone to the classes, that would have kept us from doing it.”
“Now, looking back,” Ryan said, “you don’t even remember that. The fears seem silly.”
In order to become foster parents, Ryan and Tricia went to an introductory info session in Decorah that was sponsored by Iowa Kids Net. They then had 10 weeks of training and had to pass a home study and background checks. That process really settled it for them.
“That’s what made us open up to foster and not just adopt,” Tricia said. “We knew what we were getting into when we did it.”
Ryan and Tricia usually don’t find out they’re getting a new child until a few days before arrival. Support workers often tell them things about the child and his/her situation, but information is sometimes limited. No matter what, though, the Koeller family helps the child feel welcome.
“We try to make it homey,” Ryan said. “We give them a room and let them decorate. They just need space to be themselves.
“When you get a placement and realize what they’ve been through and try to get them on track, that’s what’s most eye opening. I can’t say the parents are bad. It’s just the situation. They’re kids and they need to get back to where they can be kids again.”
After they leave the Koeller home, the kids either head back to their biological parents or move on to another foster home. Through it all, Ryan and Tricia said the most rewarding part is not just helping the kids, but seeing their own children welcome new faces into their home.
“They are such good kids,” Tricia said, choking up. “They share their house and their parents. They share everything now.”
“It’s just the way of life now,” Ryan added. “It would be weird if we didn’t do it.”
Ryan and Tricia said they get a lot of support from friends and family, their church and the MFL MarMac School District. The support they get from other foster families is also invaluable, whether it is a chance to talk about worries or frustrations, or someone to offer respite for a couple days.
However, the couple said, the area could always use more foster parents, explaining that, the more there are, the greater the support network. They encourage people who have considered it to at least attend an introductory meeting or even ask them questions about the process.
“They’re probably some of the same fears we had,” Ryan said.
For those not ready to take big steps, respite licensing is also available, which just allows people to take the kid(s) for a couple days while a foster family takes some time to itself.
“You should at least sign up for the classes and see,” Tricia urged. “They are good at helping you decide. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for more people than do it.”