In light of National Adoption Month, experienced foster parents Janet and Steve Olmstead can look back on their 36 years in Juneau and appreciate the many children who have shared their home.
Aside from the three adopted children and five foster children living with them now, the Olmsteads have fostered five children in the past - a total of 13 in the last five years.
"All my life I've wanted to be a mother and raise children," Janet Olmstead said. "I just find no greater joy than the innocence and beauty in them."
Evidently - the Olmstead household currently includes their three birth children, Jacob, 19, Lindy, 17, Jana, 16; three adopted children, Shannon, 11, Michael, 7, and Aria, 5, who are Tlingit siblings, and their half-sister, a 3-year-old who cannot be named; and four emergency foster children, ages 10, 8, 6 and 3, who were put with the Olmsteads on Nov. 4. Later this month, the Olmsteads also hope to adopt the half-sister of their adopted children, who they've fostered for about two years.
"To me, adoption means the ability to bring someone into a loving home and share with them life," Janet Olmstead said. "At least, that is my hope."
The youngest of 10 siblings, Janet Olmstead knows how a large family operates. Her experience as a special education teacher and sign language interpreter also helps her in her duties at home, homeschooling and caring for her children.
"I grew up with a lot of children and people around," she said. "When my brothers and sisters started having children, I had the joy of having them in my life."
The Olmsteads started fostering just newborns and young children about five years ago. But because they saw the benefits of keeping siblings together, they decided to become open to family groups. So now the Olmsteads foster infants, children in emergency care and sibling groups.
"They are an amazing family to work with," said Jeannie Arledge, regional adoption specialist for the Office of Children's Services, Southeast Regional Office. "In addition to providing great care for the children in their home, they are very supportive to the birth parents of the children."
The Olmsteads fostered their three adopted children for about a year before they were able to adopt them.
"We would have loved to adopt them, but we didn't have any Native blood in us, so we weren't able to (at first)," Janet Olmstead said. "They wanted to place them in Native families, so we thought there would be no way we could adopt them, although we wanted to of course."
But because the state's highest priority was to keep the siblings together and they couldn't find parents who could take all three, the Olmsteads won out.
"So that was our delight," Janet Olmstead said.
Although fostering childen brings Janet Olmstead much joy, she said the most difficult part is hearing the children's stories.
"Just the pain of separation that they experience," she said. "You know, I think no matter how bad the situation is, they still love their parents."
Despite the difficulty, Olmstead encourages anyone with the desire to bring children into their home to pursue it.
"It's just beyond words," she said. "For us, we just can't believe the constants blessings that come from the little people who are in our lives. For people who aren't able to have children and long to, people whose children are grown or a little older, there is such a need out there."
According to Olmstead, the application process involves quite a bit of paperwork, getting references, criminal and background checks, and fingerprinting.
"None of it is too tedious," Olmstead said. "I think it's excellent and important. The state is very helpful in all of it. They cover the cost of everything from fingerprinting to having a physical or anything else. It's something that does take a little bit of time, but obviously you can understand why it's so important, for the safety of the children."
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at firstname.lastname@example.org.