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Foster Family StoriesNews

Foster Family Stories | Julie and Mark Santee

By Kelly Little

The Santee family came into foster care looking to foster young children (up to 12 years old), but found success in fostering teenagers facing difficulty circumstances.  Julie and Mark looked into their hearts and “outside the box,” and since joining our KidsPeace team have been granted guardianship of two teen boys and provide a stable family unit for another youth that aged out of care. 

  • Matthew was their first foster son.  He requested to return to foster care after being discharged from care after the age of 18.  The Santees worked closely with Matthew, now 21, through the ups and downs of transitioning from a fostered youth to an adult out of the system.  According to Julie, “Getting him to realize he was a child in need of care was difficult. Matthew had no rules, curfew or direction. He thought he was grown and independent, but he had no idea how to be an adult and the biggest difficulty was getting him to be responsible, maintain a job, save money and stop making excuses. Matthew had a major issue learning to trust us which he finally did but it took a lot.  For a long time, Matthew wanted us to give up on him so he didn’t have to keep trying to be a better person and just go back to his old way of life earning money the fast way by selling drugs. So really the biggest challenge was trying to help him become a responsible adult when he didn’t know how.”   

Julie and Mark have encouraged, supported and mentored Matthew every step of the way.  They worked with Matthew’s team of caseworkers and Independent Living worker in helping him gain employment alongside Mark working in HVAC, educated him about budgeting, helped him buy a car and apply to college.  Matthew continues to reside with the Santees as a greatly loved member of their family.  Matthew also continues to have a relationship with his birth family and the Santees support them in that bond. 

  • Months later, Matthew’s younger brother, Brian, now 16, needed a new foster home.  Brian is a straight A student/athlete; the Santees live in the same school district that Brian attended, and they were ready and willing to welcome him into the home.  This was a difficult time for both Brian and the family, as Julie recalls: “I think the challenge was getting Brian to be strong enough to choose what he wanted for himself. Brian also has issues with trust and we just kept telling him we would be here no matter what he chose.  Mostly the biggest challenge was the emotional things we all went through fearing he would be sent home – not only because we would have missed him, but because I feared so much that it would destroy him. There are very few kids with the resiliency of Brian and I was so afraid that one more negative event could change that.”  

The Santees always had a great relationship with Matthew and Brian’s parents and did not want them to think they were taking their children.  When it came time for the court to decide if Brian would return home, the judge allowed Brian and Matthew to express their thoughts on the matter.  Brian expressed that although he loved his parents, he had been down this road in the past and feared reentering care.  Matthew backed his brother regarding those same thoughts.  The judge allowed the Santees to take guardianship of Brian and he continues to thrive in their home.  Brian also continues to visit with his parents and has a close bond with them.

  • A few months later, the Santees took in a medically fragile 16-year-old boy.  Karl is Type 1 diabetic and epileptic.  Julie became educated regarding his needs, and commented: “Dealing with the school was difficult, and getting Karl to take care of his medical needs despite his depression is the most challenging and scary. The challenges were so many, him trying to get us in trouble and continuing to look for new ways for us to kick him out.” Like all families, the Santees had their ups and downs with Karl; however, they worked through each bump and they just took guardianship of him as well this spring.  

Really the whole family came together to care for each other.  Julie and Mark’s two sons also reside in the home and they really pull through for the family as well and have been a huge help.  ”It really took us all to care for all of them, ” said Julie, who added,  “I think you learn each kid and figure out what they need the most, which is in my opinion knowing that no matter what they do you are not giving up.  Fostering teens have taught us how to be better parents overall to all the kids.”    

Kelly Little is assistant state manager for KidsPeace Foster Care and Community Programs in Pennsylvania.

Note: children’s names have been changed for privacy reasons.