‘Resource parents’ embrace diversity while helping county’s foster children and youth

Staff report

The meaning of “family” is becoming increasingly inclusive and diverse, as exemplified by Matt and Michael Pennon, a Los Alamos couple who are writing their own definition of family while helping foster children and youth in Santa Barbara County.

Resource parents like the Pennons are the new face of foster care, as new rules call for elevated levels of expertise and dedication to provide more help for new foster parents, according to the Santa Barbara County Department of Social Services.

The Pennons became resource parents in December 2014 through Our County, Our Kids, a program of the county Department of Social Services. Their hope was to find a child who was available for adoption, but they never anticipated the journey this process would take them on.

In 2015, the Pennons had five placements. Two of them reunified with biological parents, two have been on track for adoption by Matt and Michael, and the fifth child originally reunified with her biological family but recently re-entered care and has been recommended for adoption.

While it wasn’t easy to see the children come and go, the Pennons embraced the opportunity to make an impact.

“You make a difference in their lives whether they’re in your family for two days or two years,” Matt said.

In early 2016, Matt and Michael welcomed a now 4-year-old boy into their home, followed a few months later by an infant boy who recently turned six months.  Both boys will become permanent members of the Pennon family when their adoptions are final.

“It’s an amazing thing to come full circle in this process,” Matt said. “Walking alongside of a child from foster placement to adoption is not an experience you get to have as a traditional parent.”

The Pennons have been so inspired by the process of fostering, mentoring, and adopting that Matt has joined the Our County Our Kids program as a resource family recruiter and trainer.

Effective Jan. 1, new California legislation AB403 required all group homes for foster children and youth to obtain national accreditation and provide more specialized services to their residents, or shut their doors.  As a result, the need for supportive and well-trained resource families like the Pennons is more crucial than ever. At the moment, the Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Santa Ynez Valley areas have the greatest need for resource families for the more than 425 Santa Barbara County foster children and youth who need a place to call home.

Through the foster care and adoption process, the Pennons say, their increasingly diverse family has not only grown but also their marriage has grown and changed.

“The diversity of our family is the best part about it,” Matt said.  “But we have also become a much stronger, more patient couple.  We communicate better and have set more goals for each other and for our family.”

One of those goals includes Matt finishing his BS degree in sociology and obtaining his master’s degree in social work.

The Pennons believe that resource families have the power to improve the hand a child is dealt and they encourage others to take the life-changing step of opening their home to a foster child or youth.

“There’s always enough space in your heart to love a child,” Matt said.

For more information on getting involved with local foster children and youth, visit http://ourcountyourkids.org/.