May is National Foster Care Month, a time to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, advocates, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and the many people in communities across the country who help children and youths in foster care. There are nearly 390,000 children in foster care in the United States right now.

Meet Matt and Stacy Santen: a remarkable West Virginia couple who have opened their home to 13 children in foster care. The Santens are friends with Sharon Iskra, BG's Institutional Abuse & Neglect team leader, and below is a special Q&A with Sharon and Matt Santen. 

** The following pictures of the Santen family, with four of their foster children, are posted with the permission of the Santens, who also altered the images of the foster children to protect their privacy. 

Sharon Iskra: Please tell us about your family, and more about your experience being a foster family: 

Matt Santen: We have been fostering for four years. Over the course of these four years, we have welcomed 13 children into our home. We have raised four children of our own and do not feel called to adopt children, but instead we feel called by God to stand in gap between when children are reunited with their families or become adoptable. In the world of foster care, we are known as a “foster-only family.” Some families that foster may or may not adopt those children. Other families are primarily interested in adoption and will typically only foster children who are available for adoption.

Our “niche” has been elementary age boys. When we began fostering, our youngest two boys were still in high school and so this seem the best course for us. In saying “yes” to foster elementary boys, we have also had older and younger siblings come along with those elementary boys.

Sharon: How and when did you decide to foster? What was process like? 

Matt: We were certified to foster during the height of the pandemic in the Spring of 2020. We took in our first foster children in the Fall of 2020.

We went through the Pride classes that were offered through KVC which is our foster care agency. We were able to do it all online which made it easier for us. We did not find the classes particularly helpful. Having raised 4 children of our own, there was not much new or helpful information. We also had to submit lots and lots of information from insurance to earnings statements in addition to background checks and home inspections for safety.

Sharon: What are some of the joys you've experienced being foster parents?

Matt:  One of the unexpected joys of foster was seeing how our biological children loved and cared for the foster children. And conversely, the foster children loved to refer to our children as their brothers.

One of the things that has helped us tremendously to foster is being surrounded by community to share the load. Our church, River Ridge, has a ministry where every foster family is surrounded by a 4 to 6 people who deliver meals, babysit and do other helpful things. When our current foster kids moved in, two days later a member of our care community power-washed our driveway so that the boy could play basketball without slipping on the moss that had grown on the driveway.

Sharon: What challenges have you encountered? 

Matt: Fostering is not without its challenges. We have had our current foster children for four months and the courts have been incredibly slow in moving towards termination of rights or reunification. So much of that side of things is out of our hands, but we do the best we and to advocate for these children and in the meantime do all that we can to provide them with love and stability.

Sharon:  Thank you for sharing your family with us, for all you’re doing for children, AND for helping inspire more to do likewise.

   Sharon F. Iskra is a nationally-recognized advocate for children and the leader of Bailey Glasser's Institutional Abuse & Neglect team. 

Click here to learn more about Sharon and her work.

To learn about our Institutional Abuse & Neglect practice, please visit this link.

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