Each Mother’s Day, Americans take time to honor and celebrate the matriarchs in their lives: mothers, stepmoms, grandmothers — and foster moms.
For Mission Hills resident Julia Parra, who has had more than 200 kids in need of a foster parent pass through her home, the holiday is another opportunity to share her call for more people to foster and adopt.
“There is such a great need for people willing to open their homes and hearts to a child that needs love,” she said. “I was adopted myself and that was how I got interested in doing foster care.
“I always wanted to help someone else because someone took me in and helped me,” Parra continued. “I think it’s my calling: I really love doing this.”
The 68-year-old Parra has been a resource parent with the Santa Barbara County Department of Social Services for the past 43 years. She and her husband, Juan, have five foster children in her home at the moment, girls ranging in age from 7 to 16.
In addition to fostering scores of children, Parra and her husband have three biological children, and formally adopted one of her former foster daughters.
Another former foster daughter remains in touch with Parra well into adulthood. "She always calls us mom," she said. "She's here for the holidays and I'm her mom."
While all the children result in a busy household, Parra wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve been asked many times, ‘When are you going to stop?’” she said. “As long as I’m able, I’m going to keep doing it because there is such a great need in the community. I’ve always had kids in the house. I’m used to having children around.”
Foster homes are meant to provide a temporary safe haven and supportive family environment for children unable to live with their birth parents. As of late 2018, around 350 children were in the Santa Barbara County foster care system.
“There’s always a need for more resource parents,” said Gustavo Prado, a department specialist with the county Department of Social Services. “At this point, it’s an ongoing need.”
Stays in foster care can be as little as overnight or multiple years. The determining factor is if and when the children can return to their parents, which is the ultimate goal, Prado said. Children are adopted out when returning to their homes is impossible.
On Friday, Parra spoke about her experience as a resource parent while sitting in her living room, which has numerous photos displaying the large family she and her husband have had since moving to the Lompoc Valley in 1970.
“I was 26 when I started and our first child was a 15-year-old girl. She only stayed for a little while and then we got a couple of boys after that and it kept going and going,” she said.
While many of the children were only around for short-term stays, some kept in contact even years later.
During Mother’s Day 2017, Parra recalled, two of her former foster daughters surprised her at church with a bouquet of flowers.
A former foster son wrote her a letter thanking her for taking care of him.
“‘Thank you for taking me to all those places like Magic Mountain. You treat me like a son,’” Parra read from a wrinkled letter written in a child’s hand.
Parra said she would encourage any parents thinking of fostering to go through with it, noting that “Our County. Our Kids,” the county’s program that manages the foster care system is always ready to provide help.
“You will not be on your own,” she said. “You’ll get help. Our County. Our Kids always has help for all the parents."
“I’m not going to say it’s easy because things always come up,” she said. “But in the long run, you have that satisfaction where you know you helped a child out and made a difference.”