Recently at Walker Memorial Library, a display of photographs of happy, smiling children beamed down from the walls.

The kids pictured in the display were of all ages and came from a wide variety of backgrounds, yet they all had one thing in common. They were all children who are waiting for an adoptive family to give them a permanent home.

The display, known as the Heart Gallery, was part of an effort by the state Department of Health and Human Services and A Family for ME, to help recruit foster and adoptive families who are willing to give children a home.

While there are certainly challenges to taking in foster children, one local woman said the experience is well worth the effort.

Ellen Bartlett of Forest Street said she and her husband, Kevin, have been foster parents for over two years and they have two foster children as well as their own two sons, Keith, 9, and Sidney, 6.

Bartlett said she and Kevin decided to become foster parents when Keith was in preschool. She said one of the other mothers who also had a child at the preschool was a foster parent, and talking to her sparked Bartlett’s interest in becoming a foster parent herself.

After talking it over with her husband, Bartlett said they began the long process of becoming licensed foster parents. After completing an application, Bartlett said her family underwent a series of background checks and interviews as well as participating in a training class for four consecutive weekends on the basics of becoming a foster parent. After that, Bartlett said inspectors came to her house to make sure it was up to state standards and met the fire codes.

After going through that process, Bartlett said the state granted her and Kevin their license to become a foster family. And it wasn’t long before they received a call from the state asking them if they were willing to bring two young sisters into their home.

Bartlett said sisters Jessie, 7, and Samantha, 5, came to live with their family two years ago when they were just 5 and 3 years old.

Bartlett remembered with a laugh that when the girls first arrived at the house, her oldest son, Keith, wasn’t too sure about them. Bartlett said she and Kevin took care to make sure he felt comfortable with the girls. That took only a short while, Bartlett said with a smile.

“About a month later, he came to me and said, ‘I think they can stay forever,'” she said.

After two years, Bartlett said the four kids have bonded, and now they have the normal relationships most siblings have. While it seems normal to her now, Bartlett said it took her by surprise one day soon after the girls arrived when Sidney referred to “his sister.” She said that sentiment is returned by Jessie and Samantha who think of Keith and Sidney as their brothers. Bartlett said the girls also consider she and her husband as their mother and father and have been calling them “mom and dad” since soon after they began living with them.

Bartlett said her family has blended nicely. “It’s worked well,” she said. “You definitely have your trials and tribulations. But it’s worked well.”

While the girls have been a part of their family for the past two years, they are up for adoption, and Bartlett said she wasn’t sure how long Jessie and Samantha are going to be with them. Bartlett said while they haven’t made a final decision, they have not ruled out adopting the girls themselves.

Bartlett said her family has no regrets at their decision to become foster parents and said the hard work of taking care of the children is definitely outweighed by the experience of being a foster parent. “It’s definitely a rewarding experience,” Bartlett said. “Anyone that’s interested in being a foster parent should definitely check it out.”

For more information on becoming a foster parent in Maine, call A Family for ME at 877-505-0545 or visit their Web site at www.afamilyforme.org.


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