A Chandler couple who always intended to become foster parents has expanded their family.
Banica and Liz Olmeda are proud parents of eight children, seven of which they have adopted—four brothers and three sisters.
But the road to adoption wasn’t always easy for them—the couple faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation even though it is legal for same-sex couples to adopt in Arizona.
In the past several years, the couple has fostered over a dozen children and have made it a point to adopt sibling sets, something that is not required by law in Arizona.
“Without this family, I know that those kids would have been split up forever,” said Kristina Gonzalez, program manager at A New Leaf. “They had the opportunity to live, you know, to grow up together and to be siblings and to have that bond.”
Banica and Liz became licensed foster parents through A New Leaf, a nonprofit organization offering community services from foster care to sexual and domestic violence services.
But this did not come without obstacles. In 2017, the two attended an informational meeting in Mesa, expressing they were interested in becoming licensed foster parents.
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Banica and Liz were discouraged from becoming foster parents by a representative from another organization, who told them case managers from the Department of Child Safety would not be willing to work with them and licensing agencies would not call them for placements because they are a same-sex couple.
“We were just told there was no way around,” Banica said. “They just completely depleted our dreams and hopes of being able to foster.”
Gonzalez, who worked with a different organization at the time, reached out and let the couple know that the information they were given was not accurate. She pointed them in the direction of A New Leaf . It was there that the couple was eventually able to get licensed.
“I could not be more thankful for her [Gonzalez] and A New Leaf and everything that they did for our family, and I’m so proud to be a part of the [nonprofit] now,” Banica said.
Banica is now a licensing specialist at A New Leaf, where she works to support families that have been licensed, get them referrals, and give them a voice when it is needed.
“I did not expect the type of happiness that I would get from even the parents, and seeing them as the ones who really try and [be] the ones who fight and advocate for the kids,” Banica said. “That superseded what I was expecting.”
A Need for Foster Parents
There was a huge decrease in the number of available foster families during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the state of Arizona is still trying to bounce back from that, Gonzalez said.
There are nearly 14,000 Arizona children in foster care and only about 3,000 licensed foster families available to support them.
It’s just so important that people know that it [foster care] is an option out there for them and the process can be easy,” Gonzalez said.
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Prospective foster families are going to have to do paperwork, a home check, and take classes, but it’s such a short period of time to do something that is potentially going to change the parents’ life and definitely change the life of a kid, she said.
Right now, recruitment for foster families is word-of-mouth style, which is not very widespread, Gonzalez said.
Becoming a Licensed Foster Parent
To become a licensed foster parent, A New Leaf splits the process up into five steps:
- Interview with the agency to make sure it’s the right fit.
- Complete a five-week course with one class a week.
- Fill out a questionnaire.
- Participate in an in-person home inspection.
- Complete a background check.
A New Leaf does not charge families any fees to become licensed. To help shoulder costs, foster families receive a monthly payment from the state that is based upon the age and needs of the child in their care. Children in foster care also receive health coverage from a state health plan.
For Banica and Liz, the process to get approved took about three months, but it can take longer depending on how quickly the applicant moves the process along.
Children are typically in foster care for about a year, but this time period greatly varies from case to case.
Banica and Liz have always known they wanted to foster or adopt children.
When Banica was younger, she had many friends who ended up in foster care or group homes, and she saw firsthand how they struggled.
“It’s always held some sort of weight on my heart, so when I got older, I always knew that I was going to try to give back in some kind of way,” Banica said.
The support that Banica and Liz felt from A New Leaf and Gonzalez as their support system made the couple comfortable taking on not only fostering but also adopting seven children.
They are now the proud parents of four boys and four girls, ranging in age from 8 to 14.
For Liz, it was especially important to adopt groups of siblings, because she was adopted as a child by her grandmother and was able to stay with her siblings.
She could not imagine growing up without her siblings and made the decision to give that same opportunity to other children.
“It just brings me joy—being able to help and provide for kids that don’t have it [a family] … because everyone needs a home, everyone needs love,” Liz said.