Carlos and Gail Remis have been on the front lines caring for foster children for the last 20 years, providing clean beds and hot meals, taking in large sibling sets, and emphasizing to children the importance of higher education. In their own words, they share their experience of fostering and adopting youth, and later training parents.
Why did you and Gail become foster parents?
My wife, Gail, and I decided to foster because we were looking for something to do together after our four kids left the nest. Gail was a mentor with the Big Sisters program at David & Margaret, an LA-based organization placing children awaiting homes with families. However, since Big Sisters didn’t let men participate, we wanted to get involved another way. David & Margaret's Foster Care & Adoption Program gave us a chance to care for local children in need of a home. Our goal was to be a gap resource between birth parents and children.
What has your foster experience been like over the past 20 years?
We were certified as foster parents in 1998 and have fostered about 50 to 60 children of all races. Usually foster children stayed with us for six to eight months at a time and then either reunited with their birth parents or emancipated from the foster care system. A big help through it all was David & Margaret. They have always been there for us, either providing on-site resources for any of our kids’ educational or psychological needs or inviting us to shows, parties or summer camps. If any behavioral issues arose, we always had 24/7 assistance.
Some milestones for us were taking in sibling sets. One sibling set was with us for almost three years before returning to their birth family.
In 1998 we took in two brothers, Rudolfo and Nathan who had lived in two previous foster homes. Even at eight and nine years old, they were extremely entrepreneurial, drawing and selling Pokémon cards at their elementary school and washing the neighbors’ cars for money. We didn’t realize that Nathan was struggling academically. He had poor motor skills, because as a young child he had been kept in a playpen and didn’t get to move around. This lack of exercise impacted the development of his brain and motor skills. We turned to David & Margaret, who introduced us to their Learning Enhancement Center which helps children with learning disabilities. With their support, he was able to catch up and today Nathan is a college graduate with two degrees.
In 1999, we decided to take in two more brothers, Oscar and Michael. After that in 2000, we decided to expand our family to six and took in James and Kail, knowing the max number of foster children a family is allowed to care for at one time is six. One of our fondest memories is when we took all six to Mexico for a family vacation. The boys loved spending time with us while hanging out at the beach.
Did you ever adopt any of the children you fostered?
About 10 years ago, we decided to become surrogate parents to our grandchildren. Their stepfather had become physically abusive after their mom (our daughter) passed away in a freak accident. After both boys were placed in foster care, we felt that adoption was the safest way to protect them.
Are you both in touch with the children you previously fostered?
We’ve stayed in touch with many of the children we fostered who ultimately reunited with their biological parents. We still want to be in their lives and offer support when needed, so on occasion we take their children for a week or weekend. We did this for one single-working mother of four, Susan, who needed support after reuniting with her children. Susan worked the graveyard shift and it was hard for her to get enough sleep, so during the summer we would care for all four kids.
After 20 years of fostering and adopting, what made you decide to become trainers to other parents?
After having been foster parents, we now mentor and train other foster parents to help motivate the children in their care to pursue higher education. When our former Social Worker, Jorge Razo at Fedcap PrepNow! asked us to become ReServist Success Mentors, we said yes! Since joining PrepNow!, we’ve been able to teach other foster parents the reality that guiding a youth to emancipation and getting a job is not enough. The biggest barrier to college for foster youth is the lack of education. Instilling a culture of education at home is key.
Learn More About the Need for Fostering
With the passing of the Continuum of Care Reform or AB403 in January 2017, more resource families are needed today to care for the staggering number of foster youth without a permanent family. In fact, about ½ of foster youth who age out every year leave without a permanent connection. A foster parent or family, also known as a “Resource parent” is a family who opens their homes to children or teens who have been removed from their birth parents and provides temporary care. Carlos and Gail Remis are parents who have provided both temporary and permanent care for foster children.
What's more, the qualities of successful foster and adoptive parents are similar to all parents. It is critical for parents to understand the challenges these children have faced and to not take their behavior personally. You don’t need to own their own home, be wealthy, have children already, have a college degree, or be a stay-at-home parent to adopt. However, you do need to demonstrate that you can support yourself.