ST. GEORGE — For Utah Foster Care foster father of the year Abraham Barlow of Hildale, being a father is all about maintaining strong relationships.
“In every culture anywhere, a person needs that parental relationship with both a mother figure and a father figure,” Barlow said. “And whether it’s biological, it doesn’t matter. Love the children. Love them all. Just get attached.”
Barlow has plenty of experience developing relationships both as a foster father and as a biological parent with his wife Ellie.
The couple was at the Utah Foster Care office last week to get a gift basket, actually, a gift bucket from Home Depot- with treats and gift cards.
Diane Callister, southwest retention specialist for Utah Foster Care, was on hand to make the presentation to the Barlows.
Five biological kids weren’t enough for the energetic couple. They love parenting so much that they open their home to children who need a family.
So while the award is technically for foster father of the year, in the case of the Barlows, it’s more like foster couple of the year.
“For me personally, it goes way back to when I was even 10 years old,” Barlow said. “It’s always been my dream, it’s what I want to do, living the dream, being a dad. And so we’ve had five of our own, and just wanted to give that same home to others.”
Starting from a young age, Barlow had a good example to learn from in his own father.
“I’m very close to my dad. My dad has just been great. I had a very wonderful childhood,” Barlow said. “I did need to recognize some areas where dad seemed to be a little rough, but looking back, it’s just, I love my dad so very much.”
His father defined family differently than others and led a lifestyle reflective of that choice. Barlow grew up in a home with three moms and 39 siblings.
“He’s had a really good example with his dad and his moms, it’s really neat to see that,” Ellie said.
Barlow learned from his father that there are many different kinds of families, and love-based relationships should exist for everyone.
“Although I love every single one of them, that’s not my lifestyle,” Barlow said. “But seeing and knowing those relationships, that is really what life is about. And I didn’t see that it had to be someone that was a blood relation to form those relationships, so fostering was perfect for me.”
According to statistics provided to St. George News by Utah Foster Care, in Utah there are some 2,500 children in foster care at any given time and 1,200 licensed foster/adoptive families.
Children in foster care often have special needs due to neglect, abuse or separation. In Utah, most foster children are in foster care for about 12 months.
Two-thirds of the children who enter foster care return to live with their birth parents or other relatives.
Reuniting foster children with their biological parents and families is the overall goal of foster care, and it is considered a tremendous success story when it happens.
The Barlows just recently experienced the conflicting feelings that come when such a success story occurs.
Sunshine, a foster child the Barlows welcomed to their home shortly after she was born, reunited with her biological family about an hour before their interview with St. George News.
“It’s a very bittersweet experience, so to speak,” Abraham said. “It’s hard to do. It’s hard to say goodbye to a child that has been with us since she was born.”
Sunshine had special needs and providing for her reminded Barlow of why he’s a foster father.
“Some of those times when you see her and you’re holding her and you know she’s helpless in herself, and she can’t provide for herself,” Barlow said. “I have to give that to her and it was my joy to give it to her, and that’s how it was, for me, heartwarming.”
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