“We did not have a plan. Our hearts were wide open.”
Amy Wempner and her husband, Dan, live in rural Wisconsin. She contacted us to share her story, hoping that it will inspire other families to foster and adopt.
Like many couples who adopt, Amy and Dan first planned to have children by birth. When that didn’t happen, they assumed they would never be parents.
But on their 13th wedding anniversary, a cousin called saying that another relative’s baby was about to go into foster care. Would they consider adopting her?
Amy said “yes” right away, knowing that Dan would agree. Two weeks later, when baby Merri arrived, Dan was still assembling her crib.
“We didn’t have nine months to prepare. But it turned out that we were good at being parents! Not only that, I enjoyed doing the things that I understood were good for kids—being involved in their school, in church activities, in the community,” Amy said.
So four years after adopting Merri, Amy and Dan got relicensed to foster.
“We did not have a plan. We didn’t know who would be placed with us. Our hearts were wide open.”
Not taking “no” for an answer
One of their first foster placements was Cameron, a two-year-old boy Amy met when he was in the hospital. He was terrified, angry, and alone. All he would do was scream “no.”
“I brought him a picture of our family, and I sat with him in his room, because nobody should be alone in the hospital,” Amy said.
When he came home with Amy and Dan a few days later, he was still angry and scared—and still screaming “no.”
“For the first few weeks, it was chaos! Lots of fear. Lots of ‘no.’ I started turning questions around to things I wanted to get a ‘no ’ answer to. And that worked!”
Several more weeks passed until Cameron started to trust Amy and Dan. Once he felt safe, Amy says, he began to blossom.
As foster parents, Amy and Dan continued to do everything they could for Cameron while wondering how long he would live with their family.
“Looking back, his was probably a very typical case. In the beginning, we rooted Mom on, saying: ‘You can do this!’ Because that is what being a foster parent is about. But about nine months in, it became pretty obvious that permanency was going to be with us,” Amy said.
Amy and Dan adopted Cameron in May of 2017. But not before having their home study updated to include a teen.
Online search brings a new direction
While Amy and Dan were in the process of adopting Cameron, they continued to take short-term foster placement and got licensed as a treatment home, so that they could care for children with a higher level of needs.
“I told the county: ‘Fill our house! We have resources and we have room.’ ’’
At one point, they had six children under the age of 10 in their house.
But all the while, Amy was searching the AdoptUSKids and Wisconsin photolistings. She inquired about a teen whose video spoke to her. He would be adopted by another family. But that inquiry led Amy to Armond, a 13-year-old boy who had already experienced three disrupted adoptive placements.
“Within 10 minutes of meeting Armond, my husband and I believed that he was going to stay forever. Six months later, we adopted him. We did it as soon as we could, because we wanted to take the option of rejection off the table in his mind,” Amy said.
“Like bringing a lion into the house!”
Amy says you could tell by Armond’s actions that he wanted a family and wanted permanency. Yet at every step, he would push back.
“Learning how to decode him was the biggest thing we had to do. A lot of what he said was the opposite of his actions. While he would verbally push me away, he would physically pull me closer. I think it was his head telling him this would not last and his heart telling him it would.”
One year later, Amy says that with a lot of support from their agency and advice from other parents, Armond is thriving.
“We’ve gone from feeling that we brought a lion into the house to exactly the opposite. Armond is a mama’s boy with the kindest heart of anyone I know. I believe that he was sent on this journey for some reason and is destined for greatness. I can’t wait to see the man he becomes,” Amy said.
Stopping at four—but working to inspire others
In October, Amy and Dan adopted their fourth child, 11-year-old Mason. Their house is now full, but they are sharing their story with the hope of inspiring others to become foster parents.
“People tell me they can’t foster because they’d get too attached. I tell them: That’s exactly why you should foster! You’re the grown up. You’re the one who can deal with the emotion. You are showing kids love. Maybe what you show them sparks something or gives them a memory they draw on after. That’s the job when fostering. Plant those little seeds and have faith that they will grow.”
Amy suggested that we feature her caseworker, Joy Nyhuis-Wing, as an “Outstanding Caseworker.” We did! Read Joy’s perspective on foster parenting in this post.