Weekend conference wants to encourage local families to foster and adopt children

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Jason and Dawnelle Breum of Tualatin became foster parents in 2007. This year, they finalized the adoption of four siblings, and now have a blended family of seven children. From left to right: Stormy, 10; Tyler, 10; Alyssa, 9; Amanda, 18; Jacob, 9; Madison, 13; and  Mikey, 3.When Amanda, 18, first met Dawnelle and Jason Breum in March 2009, she had no idea they would become her family.

The Tualatin couple was raising their three children – Madison, Tyler and Jacob – when they became licensed foster care providers in 2007. At the time, theirs was specified as a “medically fragile infant home” that agreed to take in very young children with serious medical needs, often on very short notice. There was the baby girl they fostered for nearly a year, starting shortly after her birth. Although the girl’s biological mother had struggled to care for her at first, the girl was able to return home to her parents by her first birthday.

That’s the goal, Dawnelle says. “You have to support (children in foster care) and help them be connected, but also let them know they could go home. Some families really get back on track.”

According to a report issued by the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services, 1,173 of the county’s children were in foster care in 2011.

Allison Owen, a volunteer at the Washington County Department of Human Services, agrees that the state prioritizes placing children with a family member, whenever possible. She says a goal of social services is to “teach the family to be healthy and to adequately take care of their biological family.”

“The point of foster care is to take care of them while the DHS is trying to reunify the family,” Dawnelle agreed.

But as she knows all too well, not all parents can overcome the issues that initially separate their family. In March of 2009, Dawnelle and Jason took in Alyssa, then 6 years old, and Ivy, then 4. The girls’ parents were struggling with addictions. Although Amanda wouldn’t join her younger sisters in the Breum household for another six weeks, she met her future parents the night they welcomed Alyssa and Ivy. Six months later, Amanda’s other sister Stormy, 7 at the time, moved in. Their brother Mikey joined them at the age of 14 months.

Ivy was adopted by Dawnelle’s mother, Dyann, a former social worker, and Dyann’s husband Bruce. Dawnelle says the five siblings see each other frequently.

But it would be another year until the five children were “legally free” – a designation given when biological parents either relinquish their parental rights or, in this case, when the court declares biological parents unable to care for their children.

Although Amanda is the oldest, she didn’t spend most of her life in foster care. The Breums’ was the second foster family she lived with.

“It was just very different,” she said about her experience being welcomed into the family. “I definitely wasn’t used to any normal family dynamics. Eating dinner together, having dinner — living together, really, just kind of having someone who’s older in charge, present.”

Although at first Amanda expected to go home to her biological parents, she eventually settled in with her new family and will graduate from Tualatin High School next year. She hopes to study medicine or engineering.

“I really want a job where I can serve people, and find ways to meet people’s needs,” she said. “I just want to help people.”by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Dawnelle and Jason Breum of Tualatin have taken in foster children since 2007. Last April, they finalized adoption proceedings for four siblings in foster care.

A community effort

Owen believes there are many families like the Breums, but who don’t have the information or resources to pursue providing foster care. There are also many families who have considered adopting children, but are daunted by the process. With that idea in mind, Owen has been volunteering with Solid Rock Ministry in Tigard to sponsor the Be a Seed Conference on Saturday.

The conference brings together more than 20 organizations involved in adoption and foster care services. There will be both public and private organizations, Owen says. Some are faith-based, some are not. Speakers include current foster and adoptive parents, as well as youth from foster care. Representatives from DHS will be on hand to answer questions about fostering and adoption. Owen describes it as an inclusive event open to members of the community who are considering adopting or fostering Washington County children, or supporting local children in the foster care system.

Dawnelle says many people don’t realize foster care doesn’t have to be a full-time or long-term commitment. “You can do respite care, which is short-term care, or you can do emergency care for weekends and the middle of the night, and the child might move the next week.”

It’s Owen’s hope that more members of the community will learn this at this weekend’s conference.

The Be a Seed Conference takes place from 9 a.m. to noon. Saturday at Solid Rock Church, 10500 S.W. Nimbus Ave., in Tigard. For more information, call 503-473-2891 or visit Admission is free.

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