Eileen Turkot is a working mother to three young boys living in Barrington. She is also a licensed foster parent. When people hear that she fosters children, they often stop and tell her what she’s doing is amazing.
“I always feel guilty when people say this to me,” says Turkot. “What they don’t know is how good it made me feel to give these children a family.”
Turkot is a new board member for Let It Be Us, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Barrington that is committed to creating programs that recruit and support area foster families.
“I’ve lived in Barrington almost my entire life,” Turkot says. “When I was growing up, I didn’t know of any families who fostered children.”
In 2018, Turkot attended an event being held by Let It Be Us and learned how the organization was helping interested families go through the process required to be a foster or adoptive parent.
“Let It Be Us dispelled a lot of misconceptions and myths for me,” Turkot says. “I thought because I worked full-time, traveled for my job, and already had young children of my own that we weren’t good candidates to be a foster family. But I learned that our family structure, routines, and especially our biological children, played an important role in giving children a stable environment to heal.”
Turkot explains that Let It Be Us, founded by Susan McConnell in 2014, is dedicated to changing the landscape for Illinois children in foster care. The organization recruits families to be foster parents, coaches them through the licensing process, and sponsors several other programs to improve outcomes for children in foster care. Let It Be Us maintains a registry of waiting parents and connects those parents with caseworkers seeking a family in order to ensure that the match is successful.
“Our first foster was a set of two girls,” Turkot says. “Let It Be Us shared the news with their community that our family with three boys took in these little girls and desperately needed girl stuff. Our little girls came to us in the winter and they didn’t even have coats.”
By the following morning, Let It Be Us’s call for help generated more items dropped on Turkot’s porch than they could possibly use.
“The outpouring of support was so kind and so generous,” she remembers. “We received so much that we ended up passing along a number of things to a foster care closet for other families to use.”
This spirit for the heart of fostering and adoptions also runs deep in the Osterhues family from Tower Lakes. Over the last 20 years, they have fostered at least one child per year—having adopted five of them, the youngest who is now four years old.
“We weren’t able to have biological children but knew we wanted a family,” says Carolyne Osterhues. “We had heard so many wonderful stories from families who fostered and were so intrigued by it.
We knew that the goal of fostering was to ultimately have children rejoin their families, but if we could be their family for even a short time—we wanted to do that. Children are little warriors and fight for what they need, but they shouldn’t have to fight to be part of a family.”
One of the things Osterhues loves most about fostering is that the system doesn’t discriminate against families who want to be a part of it. “It’s one of the many beautiful things of fostering,” she says. “You can be any age, any relationship status, or any gender to be a foster parent.”
While the Osterhues family’s time fostering is coming to an end, they are channeling their energies for this cause by advocating for more local resources to support people who feel called to foster children.
“When I met Susan and saw what she was doing with Let It Be Us, I knew she was on to something that I wanted to be part of,” Osterhues says. “She was trying to figure out what was holding back a community like Barrington from fostering more children and what resources they needed to help them be successful.”
Both Turkot and Osterhues are working to enhance the supports for foster families. “We learned early in our fostering experience that getting medical or dental care for our fosters wasn’t as easy as it was for our biological children,” Turkot says. “Because accepting Medicaid benefits is so time consuming for local offices and there isn’t a big demand for Barrington providers to accept it, the benefit isn’t widely available. I had a foster child that I had to drive 90 minutes to get a routine medical procedure done for his ears because it was the only hospital that would take his insurance,” she adds. “The added pain this child had to endure because our system wasn’t set up to work for him was heartbreaking.”
Child care is another resource that is lacking. “Our experience is that the day care benefit that the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) provides is about half of what it costs to actually use an area day care center,” says Turkot. “We were lucky that our children’s school—Atonement Christian Day School—was willing to accept what DCFS paid and allow our foster to come to school. But most families are not this fortunate.
“There is so much a foster child receives when they gain access to adequate resources like we have in Barrington,” says Turkot. “They get healthier, they try new things, and they catch up in school. But it in no way compares to what we get back as foster parents. It’s such a gift.”
To learn more about Let It Be Us, how you can become a foster parent, or how you can participate in making Barrington more foster-care friendly, visit letitbeus.org.