Foster Parents Share Heartbreak, Hope, and Love

When Chris and Sara Hornick decided to become foster parents, they knew it would be hard. What they didn’t expect was how much it would change their lives for the better.

After their daughter was born, Sara spent 5 years on fertility treatments before she was told she could not have more children. What seemed like a hurdle turned out to be more like a bump in the road.

“Both my husband and I have a lot of adoption in our families,” she says. “We have aunts and uncles who were adopted, and we have cousins from the U.S., India, Russia, China — really all over. So it was always part of our family plan.”

Becoming foster parents

While undergoing treatment, Sara worked at Lutheran Social Services in Rapid City. The adoption services office was right next door to hers, and she would often share her journey with her coworkers. 

“Everyone kept saying Chris and I would be excellent foster parents. Unfortunately, working there was a conflict of interest,” she says. “When I changed jobs and that conflict wasn’t an issue, we decided to reconsider fostering.” They talked to several foster agencies in the Black Hills before settling on Lutheran Social Services. 

“They all do great work,” Sara says, “we just wanted to make sure the agency we chose would be the best fit for our family. If you click with the people at your foster agency, things just seem to work out better, so I recommend people talk to several before deciding.”

Foster parents have to go through training to become caregivers, and are continually supported by their agency. Services provided by foster agencies include continuing education and training for parents, peer support, on-call and 24 hour support and intervention, and access to respite care for both parents and children. Foster parents receive reimbursement and financial support from programs like WIC to help provide and care for the children assigned to them.

When times get tough

The Hornicks have had over 24 foster children so far, many with special medical needs. They have adopted one foster son, but Sara admits they would have adopted most of the children if they could. 

“The hardest part of being a foster parent is saying no,” Sara says. “Maybe a placement is not a good fit for your family, or maybe you just don’t have room at the time. It’s so hard to say no because once you’re a foster parent, you see the impact on these kids.”

“If you really want to be a change maker and see the impact you can make in your community, being a foster parent is the way to do it. I have learned so much empathy and compassion for others while doing this work,” Sara says.

Many people wonder how foster parents can handle saying goodbye to children they’ve cared for, and it’s a question Sara gets often. 

“You’re going to get your heart broken,” she says, “but you can’t imagine the heartbreak these kids face. There’s just no comparison.” To help her family get through the heartache, Sara keeps photos of every child they foster in their home, including photo books of the adventures they have together. They also read the book “What’s a Foster Family” often, and talk about tummy mommys, forever mommys, and adoption with their kids.

“We can have them for one day, one year, or a lifetime, but we try to show each child that they were loved at some point in their lives. We hope that by being in our house and being loved, it might protect their heart and help them get through whatever their next step is. I just want them to know that if times get tough, somebody loves them, and there’s always someone in their corner,” Sara says. 

The need for love

Being a foster family takes a lot of work and dedication, but at the end of the day, Sara and Chris just want to do their part to make the lives of children a little brighter. “If I can make an impact for just one kid, it’s worth it,” Sara says.

Fosters are needed in South Dakota, especially for older children, siblings, and those with emotional, behavioral, or medical needs. There are also many children in South Dakota’s foster care system who are eligible for adoption. Governor Noem launched the Stronger Families Together initiative in May 2021 to try and raise awareness and recruit foster parents.

“There are a couple things I’m extremely grateful for in this process,” Sara says. “To see a child begin to trust people and open up and smile, is just such a blessing. One of my favorite memories of our whole experience was taking a 16-year-old girl sledding for the first time and how much joy it brought her. Being able to show children that and seeing the world through their eyes is amazing. It’s totally difficult, we’ve had hard times, but it’s so rewarding.”