There are currently over 16,000 youth in the foster care system in Illinois.
16,000 youth-in-care, each needing shelter, guidance and support.
Each needing a home.
And that’s exactly what Susan Vrenios has provided youth with for 27 years.
Susan and her husband, Tom, have fostered 130 youth over their nearly three decades as foster parents. They have been with UCAN for 10 years, licensed through UCAN’s Professional Foster Parenting program (PFP), which provides support and resources to families and youth alike.
The couple became interested in fostering youth when they were in their twenties. Freshly married, at the time they had no children of their own, and found themselves financially equipped to care for a youth. They wanted to give back, to make a difference.
“We both felt we were very fortunate in life and we wanted to be a part of helping those who could use a hand, so we decided to become foster parents,” recalls Susan.
Fast forward two decades, and Susan and Tom have three biological children, two adopted children, and continue to foster youth-in-care.
“We just got another baby,” she says, “our last little guy left recently. We believe whether we have a child for a couple of weeks or a couple of years, you just have to do everything for that child while they are in your home to maximize their potential of being a healthy adult.”
Many of the youth who become youth-in-care have experienced some level of trauma. For foster parents such as the Vrenioses, it’s important to remember these youth often have medical, emotional and physical needs some may be unfamiliar with.
UCAN President and CEO Zack Schrantz, a foster parent himself, adds, “It’s not easy work. We know that sometimes family dynamics can change with the addition of a new person in the household. Some young people may come with physical, mental health or development challenges that a family may not be prepared to handle.”
Nevertheless, what’s most rewarding part of being a foster parent? Vrenios notes, “The most rewarding part is seeing [youth] who have experienced trauma start to heal.”
The stable, nurturing environment of a supportive foster home is a core building block on the road to healing trauma.
UCAN’s Professional Foster Parenting programs provide further services and tools for foster parents and youth-in-care to continue on the road to healing by providing volunteers and mentors, offering therapeutic interventions, providing ongoing foster parent training and support groups, and offering case management services.
Ucan and Vrenios alike support the natural family’s participation in the healing when appropriate.
“I’m a big fan of working with the birth parents,” Vrenios says, who has fostered youth-in-care of all ages. “My husband and I see the need and value in there being good foster parents. When it has been appropriate and with the guidance from our UCAN case manager, we have enjoyed our involvement with the birth parents. Often times it has led to a healthier relationship between child, foster parent and birth parent.”
Although she has found saying goodbye is the hardest part of being a foster parent, many times families that Susan has worked with will continue sending her updates on the youth’s development and success.
“[As a foster parent] your goal is to strengthen families,” she says. “We really do believe we are making a difference, and making a difference doesn’t mean always adopting a child, making a difference means doing 110% for a child in your home at that time.”
If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, contact Michael Ann Wiley, Casework Supervisor, at (773) 429-0300 or by email at Michaelann.Wiley@UCANChicago.org.
Go into it with a heart that’s open… who can I help, and you just might find that you shine doing something that you didn’t think you could do.
By Carly Hanson