Erin and Tony Kim met 20 years ago on a college campus in Texas. Their values of faith, a shared passion for art, and advocacy for those less fortunate inspired them to create a family and grow their hearts. Years later, the Kim family moved with their two young children to Orange County, CA.
After settling in, the Kim's were ready to continue growing their family via adoption. Early in their marriage, the idea of adoption was front and center, having many friends who had successfully gone through the process. Though they were initially considering international adoption, they became passionate about the idea of fostering-to-adopt. Being in a church community which offers assistance to social services in Orange County, Erin and Tony were aware of kids who needed safe homes in their own community. Tony liked the idea of adopting from the Southern California foster care system. “Why would we go to another country or another part of this country, when there are so many kids in our own backyard?” This began their journey into foster parenting.
The process of becoming foster parents was thorough and intensive: passing multiple background checks, attending parenting and loss-prevention classes, and developing a thorough understanding of the types of kids that enter the system. Foster parents then go through a waiting period, during which they are paired with a child that matches their family dynamic.
One year after starting the process, Erin and Tony were introduced to their first foster child, a 7-week-old baby boy. He came just before Christmas, and they were able to travel to Texas with him for the holiday, where he was greeted with the love and admiration of their extended family. Erin and Tony were overjoyed having a new baby in their life, but were soon confronted with the realities of foster care. Their foster son’s birth mother called to set up a visitation, the day after they got back from their holiday vacation.
“Reality set in pretty quickly” recalls Erin, reflecting on what began a two and a half-year lesson in acceptance.
How did they get through that journey? Among other things, Erin and Tony’s love of creativity and talent in art was instrumental in helping them through the fostering process, and keeping their family going. “We created a heart that was split into two pieces, with laces on both sides,” says Erin, as she tries to locate the art piece that is now eight years old.
“We put the piece on the nursery door, and each day the kids asked if we could tie the heart together.” At one point, their oldest daughter, now 14, declared she couldn’t take it anymore and was going to tie it together. She refrained, and that effort in patience is one that has stuck with the entire family throughout their fostering journey.
Eventually, Erin and Tony adopted their foster son, who showed up on their doorstep as a 7-week old Christmas miracle. But that would come after experiencing many life lessons and opportunities. They became mentors to their son’s birth mother, who now, along with her three children, are permanent fixtures in their extended family. “Erin became a role model and a constant source of helpful information for the baby’s birth mom,” recalls Tony. This open-hearted approach that Erin and Tony have has not only helped their extended family, but also helped their adopted son realize that family bonds run deeper than blood.
This lesson continued when the Kim’s welcomed an eight-year old girl, who they eventually adopted. At the time of this daughter’s placement in their home, their youngest birth son was also eight. This gave the Kim family an opportunity to test the bonds and challenges of a growing family, while also helping their daughter navigate the challenges that come with the trauma of leaving a family of origin.
One of the most inspiring aspects of Erin and Tony Kim’s story is their passion for understanding children’s emotional safety and well-being, accompanied with their ability to embrace the reality that foster kids face. “There’s no amount of love and parenting that will fill the gap of the unknown for a child that isn’t with their birth family,” recalls Tony.
Erin and Tony invite clarity and truth into their kids' lives by staying in touch with their kid’s families of origin, talking to their kids, and listening to any pain that comes up. By advocating for this, Erin and Tony have been able to be part of the healing not only for their kids, but for the kids’ birth families and the community at large.
Today, the Kim’s are a beautiful family of six.
Since welcoming their youngest son into their home, Erin and Tony have continued to foster Orange County kids, including two sets of twins and several other kids of varying age. Each time a new opportunity to foster comes about, Erin and Tony make it a family decision, involving each of their kids; who are now 14, 13, 12, and 8. Erin teaches classes for prospective foster parents at her church, giving all of them an authentic and realistic portrayal of the joys and challenges of fostering. Both also mentor birth parents and foster parents alike. Erin and Tony are strong advocates of their Orange County faith-based community, which has had an incredible impact on the social services system in the area.
Their passion for art and design permeates their home, as evidenced in the gorgeous diptych mixed-media artwork that Tony did, which hangs as a focal point in their living room. The work is inspired by a biblical story from Genesis:18, in which Abraham has to let go of his son so that God can do with him as he wishes. The story of faith and acceptance gives the family a hands-on approach to practicing what was preached. Each time a new foster kid comes into their lives and their home, Erin and Tony help them to leave their mark on the painting in the form of handprints.
“Each handprint is a reminder for us, for our kids, and for the kids that come through our home in the future; that we are only here to love, and show them the strength and beauty of family”, says Tony.
Learn More About the Impact Resource Parents Have
The Kim family is an example of a resource family. "Resource family" is the new term California applies to caregivers who provide out-of-home care for children in foster care. Resource families can consist of individuals, couples or families. The term "Resource Family" is now used to describe all types of caregivers: foster parent, adoptive parent, relative, and non-related extended family member. Being a resource parent requires flexibility, a willingness to learn and develop new skills along the way. Also, like any parents, resource parents undoubtedly encounter situations and challenges that they do not feel equipped to handle. One of the biggest challenges that resource parents face is accepting when their children return to their birth parents. Today, more than 50% of foster children reunify with their birth parents. It's important to remember that the role of resource parents is to take children into their homes, and take care of them for as long as they need. For any resource parents who are able to maintain good relationships with their children's birth parents, the long-term benefits are invaluable. You can stay part of the child's life, watch them grow up, and provide assistance to birth parents if needed. Erin and Tony Kim are an example of resource parents who learned through their foster-to-adopt-to-training journey that acceptance is the answer. Their journey shows us that fostering has invaluable benefits no matter its outcomes–including reducing the number of placements a child experiences, and giving a child a safe, loving home.