Update: Serenity has now been adopted by the Gatlins. Her adoption was finalized during the summer of 2019. 

When Mary and Todd Gatlin became foster parents to four-year-old Serenity, their dreams came true.

The Gatlin’s have been through many ups and downs in their 22 months as foster parents to now six-year-old, Serenity. Supporting the emotional needs of a child who has been removed from their birth home and experienced trauma in their life requires compassion and the willingness to nurture a child in crisis. Being a successful foster parent can be daunting.

“She stole our hearts,” Mary confessed. “But…we weren’t prepared for all of the challenges.”

In the beginning, Mary was afraid of doing it wrong. “I didn’t want to fail my child,” she reveals. “There were days when I asked my husband, ‘How are we going to do this?’ But our love for Serenity made us hang on,” she says.

One of the keys to success for Todd and Mary was being connected with our Foster Parent Mentoring Program. The program offers one-on-one mentoring with experienced staff and seasoned foster parents. This helps new foster parents understand and meet the needs of their children – many having been traumatized by abuse and neglect.

Spearheaded by Children’s Home & Aid staff member Ashley Akerman, the mentoring program is based in Rockford but works with foster parents statewide. As a former foster youth and current foster mom herself, Ashley’s experience gives her a unique perspective and the knowledge to help others navigate the experience.

“Just knowing my mentor has been in my shoes has made a world of difference,” Mary explains. Her mentor is a resource for questions, often responding to texts immediately, providing instant help when the Gatlins need it most.

The program has also introduced Mary to other Children’s Home & Aid foster parents – a growing network of moms and dads helping and supporting each other. “We share the rollercoaster ride and heartaches. I’m able to vent and cry on their shoulders,” she reflects.

Serenity has been in Mary and Todd’s home for just 22 months, but the transformation in her behavior has already been extraordinary. “Her social and emotional growth have been amazing,” explains Mary.

Mary knows that the support from their mentors has contributed to their success as foster parents. “This program has made the difference. They’ve held my hand at my weakest hour and inspire me to be the best foster parent I can be.”

Mary and Todd are giving Serenity a place to belong and the home she needs to love, to learn, to heal, to dream, and to reach her potential. That is only possible because of the generosity of our donors. Thank you for helping our foster parents thrive and the children we serve live
extraordinary lives.