Newly married and fresh out of college, Toby and Erin Owen began working as house parents for ACH Child and Family Services in 1995, then known as All Church Home.
“We were house parents in the Walker building on the Summit Campus for a large group of kids,” Toby said.
For two years the couple nurtured, guided and mentored the teens living in their home.
“The seed to foster was planted in my mind at the end of that time,” Erin said. “We had such an impact on those kids from just loving them and doing all the parenting things we got to do.”
When Toby took on a role as a case manager in 1997, Erin moved on to work at the Child Study Center. Toby spent a total of 14 years on staff with ACH. During that time, the Owens started a family. They had three children and got busy with life. Toby had the opportunity to lead another Fort Worth nonprofit agency and he became the CEO of Presbyterian Night Shelter in 2009.
Over the years, Toby and Erin said their desire to become foster parents didn’t waver. But the doubts and fears still lingered.
“It was a roundabout journey,” Erin said. “There were points along the way when the Lord would remind me and I thought, ‘I can’t do that, I’m not up to it.’ I began praying consistently that the Lord would prepare me for that because he had put such a desire in me. My fear was that foster care would be hard because we would have to let go of the kids who came into our care.”
Admittedly from Toby and Erin, it took a change in their perspectives to move beyond the potential challenges and decide to become foster parents.
“Going back to that fear of letting go of the children in our care, I came to the realization that these children who need a home don’t have a choice in dealing with the suffering or trauma in their lives,” Erin said. “I’m an adult and I can deal with grief if I have to. These kids need nurturing, stability and knowledge that someone is trustworthy and cares about them. Turning it around put it in perspective. It’s an opportunity for a child, not for me or my family.”
Erin made the decision in her heart to become a foster parent in 2011. She knew it was the right decision for her family. Toby wasn’t ready to make the leap yet.
“Toby had a heart for being a foster parent,” Erin said. “Through his work, he knew all the difficult things that could happen. Being ready to move forward was a matter of being in alignment with one another, sharing that same dream and knowing we could do it.”
Two years later in 2013, a shift in Toby’s perspective brought him to that place of readiness with Erin.
“In the spring of 2013 our family went on a mission trip to a third-world country,” Toby said. “I had been praying about fostering for a while, and that trip sealed the deal for me. I knew we had love to give, but it opened my eyes and made me realize that we have everything we need to provide for a child in crisis.”
Taking the plunge, Toby and Erin contacted ACH when they returned from their mission trip and got the ball rolling to become licensed foster parents.
Erin Shook, the Owens’ case manager, has worked with them since 2014. She said a key to the Owens’ success as foster parents was their unwavering commitment after they made the decision to move forward.
“They’re very realistic,” Shook said. “The child currently in their care has significant medical needs and Toby and Erin are committed to giving him the best care possible. They also attend every court hearing, child protective services meeting, and family group conference related to the child in their care.”
The Owen family has embraced what it means to provide a loving home for children in crisis. Even knowing the challenges that exist with becoming a foster parent, Toby and Erin share a message as often as they can.
“Go in with your eyes open,” Toby said. “Take that step and take that leap of faith that things will be ok. You’ll make a tremendous difference. Knowing that you’re helping a child who had virtually no future and was born into an unfortunate situation makes all the hard work worth it.”
“Don’t be afraid of being hurt by losing a child in your care,” she said. “It’s more important for them to have someone who loves them, even if it’s for a short time.”
Their three children were excited to hear the news when Toby and Erin decided it was time to become a foster family.
“My kids were on board the moment we told them,” Toby said. “I think Erin and I were more nervous than they were.”
Their three biological children, Natalie (16), James (13), and Andrew (9), have shown each of the children who spend time in their home a warm welcome and made them feel like part of the family.
“This experience has brought the best out of our kids,” Erin said. “They are so giving, loving and nurturing. That’s been a really surprising blessing.”
The child currently placed in the Owen’s care needs a permanent home. They are in the process of adopting him, and will continue to provide a temporary home for other children in need.