Arlingtonian Lauded for Foster-Care Efforts


(Wednesday, June 20, 2007 6:36 AM EDT)

Isabel Kaldenbach may have only four years experience as a foster parent and respite-care provider, but her accomplishments in that time recently landed her theMetropolitan Washington Council of Governments' honor of Foster Parent of the Year for Arlington County.

“I was not expecting it, and it was really touching,” Kaldenbach said in a recent interview. “I'm just a neophyte. There are people who have been doing foster care longer than I've been alive.”

Kaldenbach, an Arlington native, first learned of local efforts in foster and respite care about 10 years ago through the county government's “Secret Santa” program.

The program tries to ensure that children have gifts at holiday time. Kaldenbach asked to be assigned “some of the hardest families,” those in the most difficult situations and often ended up buying gifts for teenagers in foster care.

Several years later, after talking with some friends with foster-care experience, she was drawn to the idea of helping girls in foster care, and decided to become a certified foster parent.

“I had parents who took care of me, loved me. I had a sister, a dog and a place to live,” Kaldenbach said. “You have so many kids who are frightened and uncertain. If you can give them reassurance for a day, a couple weeks and, hopefully, for life, it's one of the best things you can do.”

The first two foster children Kaldenbach hosted were supposed to stay only for a weekend, but she ended up adopting the sisters, then 7 and 12 years old.

Adopting wasn't the easiest decision for Kaldenbach, since she is divorced and suddenly found herself a single parent, but she said her choice has been very rewarding.

“It has definitely made me a much more rational, calm and accepting person,” she said.

She said she believes that she resonates well with children who are on the older side, particularly teens.

“I think I listen to kids, and I give them their space,” Kaldenbach said. “I respect their privacy, and I understand that sometimes you'll have an attitude and you just need some time alone.”

Unlike most foster parents who adopt, Kaldenbach has continued to take care of foster children. She has provided foster care for more than a dozen children.

She also shares her foster parent experiences as a volunteer speaker at panels held during Arlington County's course for potential foster parents.

Although Kaldenbach is busy running her own public relations firm, raising her two girls (now 12 and 16) and taking care of foster children, she wants to help grow foster care in Arlington.

“I really wish we had more foster parents,” Kaldenbach said. “We have a lot of kids, about 170 or 180, and certainly don't have that number of homes . . . It'd be great if we had more homes in Arlington.”

Isabel Kaldenbach (third from right) was selected by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments as this year's Foster Parent of the Year.

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