COLUMBUS — Becoming foster parents was something the Fryers always had in their hearts.
Knowing there was a need for foster parents, Matt and  Ashley Fryer took the steps to do so and their house has become a temporary home for many children coming from “broken and dangerous environments.”
“I believe God laid it on my heart some time ago,” Ashley Fryer said. “Our biological daughter was also really excited about us becoming a foster home.”
As a teacher, Ashley Fryer said she had “seen such a need for good foster parents.”
“I knew there were many children needing foster care placement and many others available for adoption,” she said. “Our family’s goal has always to adopt a few younger children and get them out of the system, but that is not as easy as it sounds and it is all a lengthy roller-coaster of a process.”
“We also have an amazing TFI Foster Care Worker, Carol Bakke. She is very supportive of us and always does what is right by the children.”
Many children have been placed in the Fryer’s home for a brief time, called “police protective custody” — which is a short-term stay and is often heartbreaking, Ashley said.
“With PPC, children often come right out of broken and dangerous environments to your home, with only a few hours in a police station between,” Fryer said. “They are more-often-than-not scared and angry.
“It’s a tough gig, but I think our family is good at making them feel comfortable.  We have a lot of animals, one of which is a therapy dog, and I think that puts most kids at ease.”
In Kansas, there are 7,600 children in foster care, TFI Family Services Community Liaison Coordinator Libby Hayden said. There are a little over 2,700 homes for these children to go to.
There are 164 children in out-of-home placement in Crawford County and 59 children in Cherokee County.
Groups of friends and the Fryer’s church are always willing to step up and help with meals, rocking babies and purchasing supplies for the children, the Fryers said.
Christmas is always a hard time for children in state custody, Hayden said.
“They are way from family and sometimes don't get to see them,” Hayden said. “When we are training our foster homes we always try to remind them it’s great to show (the children) their traditions.
“A dish or something make them feel more of ease during the holidays to make that feel like it is still part of their life.”
For the Fryers, the children are treated just like their own during the holidays. Most foster parents try to give them the best possible experience, from church, food and matching pajamas, she said.
“I do feel like they are family,” Ashley Fryer said. “My family and my church family take them in, give them presents and go to parties and people will play with them.”
Many of the children in foster care often come with little to nothing.
“I love being a foster parent.  Sure, there are challenges … just like there are with parenting biological children,” Ashley Fryer said. “One of the challenges is that when a child comes into care, they often have nothing but the clothes on their back and sometimes those clothes are filthy and two sizes too small.  
“Some people think ‘stuff’ is replaceable, and it is to an extent, but children in care miss their toys, favorite blankie, pets, grandparents, etcetera.”   
She recently became a part of a organization called Fostering Connections, with locations in Columbus and Pittsburg. The organization provides “VIP boxes/backpacks” to children taken into care, Ashley Fryer said.
“The VIPs provide some essentials, as well as some fun items for kids,” she said. “We also have a caring closet with a great supply of gently used clothes and shoes to give free to any foster child who needs it.
“I know that we are making a difference in their lives and they are sure making difference in ours.”
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.