Over the last nine years, Thousand Oaks couple Mike and Kristen Wise have welcomed over a hundred foster children into their home while raising their own four children. They’re like lots of parents in the Conejo Valley. With four kids they’ve always been active in the community. They’ve shuttled their kids to baseball, soccer and club volleyball practices and games all over Southern California, in addition to church youth group and music lessons.
But their family life was about to radically change. One day, Kristen was asked to join a friend who was attending an informational meeting on local fostering. Kristen and Mike were pleased to hear that the foster care system needed couples who were willing to accept just short-term placement. At the nudging of their kids, Mike and Kristen decided take to the first step, which was to take the classes to get licensed.
The couple didn’t desire to adopt more children. Originally thinking they would take one or two children, they were shocked to hear that siblings were being separated because there was a shortage of homes willing to take more than one.
The Wise kids were in middle and high school with one in college when they got their first placement of two brothers, Junior and Nathan. They had these boys for nine months and had a good relationship with the birth mom, who got her boys back. She then relapsed. The boys went back to the Wises for four more months. They were eventually adopted by what Kristen calls “wonderful relatives”. That was nine years ago and they still enjoy staying in contact with each other.
While at the beach with Junior and Nathan, ages two and three, Kristen received a call to take a three-month-old. Baby Ryan was left in a hot vehicle, strapped in his car seat, and was recovering in the hospital. They loaded up and went straight to meet with the social worker. When the Wises found out that baby Ryan’s older brother was being moved out of the county because of the shortages of foster parents they took in Kyle, age 10. This was Kyle’s 13th foster home. That year Mike and Kristen put him in his sixth new school. Kristen had to teach Kyle how to bathe himself and to learn how to properly dress himself. “I would take him to McDonald’s and after he finished his meal, he would lick the littlest bit of cheese off the wrapper. Kyle, like so many of the kids, had such a survivor mentality regardless of how much food we made available to him.” Kristen said.
Baby Ryan stayed in their home until just before his first birthday. Mike and Kristen unanimously agree that letting go of him was one the hardest moments of their lives. “If you’re going to be a good foster parent, you’re going to love them like your own,” Mike said.
Kristen commented about the challenges they didn’t expect. “The older you are, the harder it is to get up at night with a newborn.” These hurdles didn’t stop them from opening their home to placements of all ages. Currently they are fostering teens who are having babies themselves.
Mike said, “Fostering is really hard, but it’s also an adventure and can be so fun!” Many people tell them, “We could never do that because it would be too painful to give them back.” Kristen passionately states, “Yes, it’s horrible to give them back—but, so what? It’s hard for a firefighter to run into a burning building, too— but they do it to saves lives.”
When the Wise kids come home to visit, they love to be with whatever foster kids are in the home. Their oldest daughter got married last November, and Junior and Nathan were ring bearers. Another former foster daughter who now lives with her biological parents was the flower girl.
Kristen, who is reticent about accolades for being a foster mom, shares her story with the hope to inspire others. She went on to say, “Not everyone should become a foster parent, but everyone can do something to help these children.”
To find out more about hands-on ways to help children in the foster system in the Conejo Valley, go to RaisingHope.org.
Some names and circumstances have been changed to protect the children