BY TOM BUSSELBERG
LAYTON – A perfect family can come in many packages.
Such is the case for the Janeen Jennings family.
She is a single mom with one biological daughter and later adopted three children – all from the same family.
The road to that point wasn’t as direct and easy as it sounds, though.
Janeen’s biological daughter, Kelsey, now 21, had a friend who was sofa-surfing. That is, she was getting shelter and care in different homes until circumstances made it so that she had to move on.
“We wanted her to be able to have medical insurance, be entitled to school lunch,” other benefits of a permanent home, Janeen said.
That led to Janeen obtaining her license to serve as a foster mom. She was a foster mom for six years while living in Washington, and is obtaining licensure in Utah now.
Janeen was fostering 3 year-old twins, at the time, and wanted a break.
But that wasn’t to be. Looking back, she’s grateful things worked out as they did.
“They kept calling me about these two girls, how they would be a perfect fit, that they were smart, etc.,” Janeen recalled.
“I finally took the girls (sisters), and their brother came two years later when he was 7,” she said.
Initially, the trio were taken on a short-term basis.
“But they ended up staying forever. I couldn’t let them go. They’re amazing,” Janeen said.
The three have been adopted and are now considered as much a part of the family as any biological child.
The three siblings are Melissa, 15, Emily, 14, and Joel, 12.
Joel had been moved from foster home to foster home 13 times (or an average of two times a year) before he came to Janeen’s home.
“We’ve had our struggles, but it’s amazing how resilient they are. Having them all together has been phenomenal,” their now permanent mother said.
Emily spoke earlier this month at a Utah Foster Care Adoption Celebration event. It was held at the Davis Conference Center in Layton.
Her focus was on finding family after dealing with so many hard situations.
Quoting from the Lilo and Stitch cartoon Emily said:
Ohana (Hawaiian for family) is not always blood. It is the people in your life who want you in theirs; the people who accept you for who you are; who would do anything to make you smile. Ohana is the people in your life who love you no matter what. Ohana is family and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.”
“I’ve been with Janeen for almost nine years. I’ve had a perfect family for nine years,” Emily said.
The ninth grader flew to Utah from Washington State to stay with Janeen.
“It was kind’ve like I knew she would be my mom, that I would always be with her,” the 9th grader said.
“I think that any parent who wants a kid instead of having their own should adopt. That’s what Janeen did. She adopted three of us,” Emily said.
“There have been some challenges, but it’s been mostly good,” Janeen said.
“A whole lot of patience and understanding, just to be empathetic about what the child is going through,” are traits she said adoptive parents should cultivate.
That’s especially true during the holidays, when adoptive or foster kids may long to be with their biological families.
In Utah, 500 children are adopted out of foster care each year, most of them by their foster families.
“It’s not just the little children who want to be adopted,” said Brenda Durtschi, Utah Foster Care Area Representative for Northern Utah.
“Older kids and teenagers also want a permanent connection to a family who will be there when they need them for support as they go through their lives,” she said.
For more information, call 1-877-392-1114 or visit www.utahfostercare.org/.