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When Dan Hermann begins to explain why he's a foster father to five children, the wiggly little toddler on his lap spies the other kids on the deck dancing around bubbles shooting into the air. She points, squeals with delight, giggles and settles into Hermann's lap for another cuddle.
"That's why," he says simply.
Hermann, 39, currently has eight children, three biological kids and five foster kids, one of whom he recently adopted. He and his wife, Summer, are in the process of adopting the other four. They've fostered 21 children since they took in three children of a distant relative five years ago.
"Dan Hermann is an amazing foster father," said Jillana Goble, founder of Embrace Oregon, a nonprofit group that connects vulnerable children with caring community members and serves foster families. "He has a calm about him. He is unflappable and consistent. Some of the (foster) kids come from trauma and they need that."
Four under 4
Dan and Summer's children are Isaac, 18; Matty, 15; Nathan, 9; Caleb 3, and four foster children between 1 and 11 years old who cannot be identified by name until all the adoptions are final. Four of the foster kids are two sets of siblings.
"It was in our hearts when we started, was … to not have siblings separated."
Hermann didn't set out to be a foster dad. Five years ago the relative could not take care of their three children, and Hermann and his wife took them in.
"We kinda fell into it," he said.
"That relative wanted us to take her boys for a few days and 18 months later" they finally were reunited with biological family.
"That opened our eyes to the need for foster care. We went from relative foster care to general foster care," he said.
"We have a pretty good home. It's stable. We can love on these kiddos and give them a place. They come from a hard place and we can change that direction for them."
But he's quick to add, "I don't want to pat myself on the back."
But Goble will.
"He is loving and nurturing and really consistent," she said. "He also really has a heart to connect with other foster families, especially foster dads."
Dan and Summer "are masterful at being organized and being playful with the kids," Goble said.
Being a foster parent is no easy gig.
The circumstances that prompt children to be taken away from their biological parents often create trauma that manifests itself as behavioral problems within children.
Hermann said they've had children with fetal alcohol syndrome, or born with methamphetamine in their systems and kids with emotional problems related to separation from parents or siblings, which prompts children to act out in inappropriate ways.
"They all have such distinct backgrounds. All these kiddos, you don't know what they've seen, been through, what they've heard. Anything could trigger them to have an anxiety attack or a fit of rage. Some will just completely shut down."
His calling as a foster father has also become his job. He and Summer founded and run Thrive Ministries, a nonprofit organization that works with families who have foster children, children with special needs or other life challenges.
"There are lots of resources available (for foster families). We walk alongside them," he said. "Many of foster kids have special needs. The Hermanns have personal experience with a child with special needs. Their 15-year-old son Matty has Down syndrome and began life with medical challenges.
The need to support foster families is great.
"The average foster home is open for three and a half years. Then burnout sets in. Some people are done dealing with the system or just worn out doing it," he said. "We want to come alongside them and support them before they give up."
The Hermanns also get and give support at Gresham Bible Church, where 10 of the families take in foster children.
"There are other couples all going through the same stuff," he said.
The church is a big help.
The Hermanns new home in Gresham lacked a fence to keep the kids safe, so someone from the church donated the materials, and seven people came out to put up the fence, Hermann said.
He and Summer's own beginning was a bit rocky. High school sweethearts, they had their oldest child very young and took a while to decide to settle down, marry and raise their family. Summer never wanted to have children at all, but Hermann said once she had Isaac, she became an enthusiastic mother with enough love and patience for all the children in their home through the years.
The biological children got used to the new kids coming and going. Although Hermann admits there were some rocky times in the beginning between the biological children and the foster kids, but that doesn't happen anymore.
"They are understanding and love their playmates," Dan said.
"It's made them really compassionate," Summer added.
The Hermanns do all the usual family things. They load the kids up in a van and go camping several times a year.
"We go to the park, to church, we've gone to the zoo, the children's museum," Dan said. "Transitions are difficult" for some of the children, so they pick their outings carefully.
For Dan, Father's Day will start with a special breakfast and then the family will head to church. The rest of the day is just hanging out at home with the kids and a barbecue dinner.
It's a "day to relax and enjoy," he said.
Thinking about becoming
a foster parent?
Embrace Oregon, a nonprofit that supports foster kids and other vulnerable children is a great place to start. A form on its web page gets you started and answers questions about fostering, including becoming a respite home for foster families that need a break. Visit www.embraceoregon.org or call 503-281-1801.
The facts of foster care
The Oregon Department of Human Services said 11,191 Oregon children spent at least one day in some kind of foster care in 2016.
Of those, 70 percent were white, 16 percent Hispanic, 6 were black, 7 percent Native American. About 39 percent of the foster kids were 5 years old or younger, 33 percent were ages 6 to 12, and 28 percent are 13 years old or older.
Of all the children leaving foster care, 58 percent were reunited with their families.
Children from birth to 21 years enter foster care because they cannot remain safely at home and usually for more than one reason. The majority of foster children were being cared for by relatives in family foster care. Other options are children in general foster care, residential treatment, or pre-adoptive settings.
About 71 percent of the children that entered foster care in 2016 did so because of neglect or abuse, 49 percent entered due to parent drug abuse, and 17 percent because of a parent's "inability to cope," DHS said. Other reasons were inadequate housing, physical abuse, domestic violence and incarceration of parents.
These troublesome circumstances can produce challenging behaviors in the children. And although foster parents receive training, nothing can prepare them for some of the difficult behaviors the kids display.
Most in foster care in 2016 had only one or two placements, the DHS statistics show. But 12 percent had six or more placements and 13 percent had four or five different placements.
Foster parents certainly aren't in it for the money. Parents get only $575 per month for caring for a child aged 5 or younger, and that goes up as children get older. For that sum, a family must provide food, clothing, housing, transportation and all other needs such as entertainment and personal items. Many foster families have to start from scratch, as foster children often arrive with no clothing or belongings.
There is a severe shortage of foster homes in Oregon. In addition, there has been a lot of controversy about how well the state supervises foster homes and appropriately removes children from their biological families.
A recent report commissioned by the state admits that "recent high-profile cases of egregious abuse of children and youth in foster care" have prompted legislation and other measures. The report said "the state needs to do more in the areas of DHS-certified foster home placements."