by Evy Ramos
As you drive into the Hill Country from San Antonio you can’t help but feel the change of pace, the calm serenity that takes over as you drive up Interstate 35. If it’s not too hot outside, you may even find yourself rolling down the windows to take in the fresh air.
It is within one of these small communities in the Hill Country where you will find the Mata Family. And the moment you walk into their home you are greeted with a message painted on one of the doors: “The laughter of a child is the light of a house.” The walls are filled with pictures of family members, and on the floor in the living room you’ll find two little boys wrestling.
“You’d think they were brothers, but they aren’t. They’ve only known each other about a week,” according to Edith Mata. The two little boys are in the foster care system, and their laughter undoubtedly lights up the house.
Edith and Paul Mata are currently fostering four children. Two are international foster children, and two are domestic foster children. The Matas also have three biological children. The oldest is 27 and has disabilities that keeps her at home with her parents. The middle child moved out some years ago and the youngest, 17-year-old PJ, is a junior in high school.
“We’ve always had a house full of kids and it got a little quiet,” said Paul, as he described how life changed once their kids grew up and their daughter moved out. The Matas immediately thought about fostering.
They found BCFS Health and Human Service’s Foster Care and Adoption program unexpectedly, during a visit to the local mall. Some of the program’s recruiters sat at a table, sharing information about fostering and adopting. It just so happens the Matas had recently reached out to another agency, but there was some hesitation.
“The first agency didn’t feel so welcoming and with BCFS, it felt like these guys care and that’s what we wanted to go with, somebody who really cared,” said Paul.
In a little over a month, after following protocols and attending required training sessions, the Matas were licensed and ready to accept children thanks to the staff at BCFS-San Antonio. “They answered all our questions,” Edith explained. “They worked with us in regards to training. They did beyond whatever they needed to do to get us licensed.”
When asked about how quickly it all came together Paul said, “What we did is we just attacked it and we jumped in with both feet.” Soon after getting licensed, the Matas were blessed to be fostering.
Welcoming children from different backgrounds into your home can be difficult as many come from difficult circumstances, having a rough upbringing or suffering neglect and abuse. It requires a lot of patience, but also support. This is something BCFS-San Antonio is always ready to provide. A 24 hour on-call support system is part of its services. It’s a phone number that foster parents can call for any problem or concern and it’s a number the Matas have had to call on occasion, and one they are grateful for.
“It’s that kind of stuff that makes us feel a lot better, that makes us feel like we’re not in this by ourselves. We’re not just another person complaining about something that one of these kids did. They actually care and they want to know not only how the child is, but how we are,” said Edith.
About a year ago, the Matas got a call that changed their lives completely. Their niece and nephew were in foster care and needed a place to go. Always ready to help one in need, especially family, the Matas took in Francisco, now 11 years old, and Danielle, now 12.
When Francisco and Danielle first arrived, they struggled in school and with the responsibilities that came with being a part of a family. Today, they are thriving. Both said their favorite subject in school is math. Francisco said he would like to study law one day and become a police officer. Danielle said she would like to be a veterinarian. Both are happy to have a forever home.
“I feel comfortable in this house, and safe,” said Francisco. The Matas officially adopted Francisco and Danielle in November 2019.
While fostering isn’t easy, both Paul and Edith said it’s absolutely worth it.
“I think the most rewarding part of it is to see these kids do a 180 in their life from when they came,” explained Paul, “And to see them do better and better and better just makes me feel good.”
Edith said the best part is when the children realize their worth. “You know they’ve been told for a very long time they can’t, so don’t bother because you can’t. And now they’re realizing, ‘Yes I can. Yes I can.’”
The BCFS Health and Human Service-San Antonio’s Foster Care and Adoption program needs more families like the Matas.
In the past year, the Foster Care and Adoption program placed about 30 children. Laura Castillo, BCFS Health and Human Services’ national foster home development director, would like to grow the program, but to do so, they need more foster parents.
“Recruitment is really difficult. It’s tough,” says Castillo. “Actually committing to be a foster parent is a really big deal and something that not very many people are willing to do.”
Once a family is ready to open their homes, BCFS-San Antonio is there to help in many unique ways. When a family is being licensed, everything is completed in-house, so there is no need for third parties. For example, being certified to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a requirement, and it’s something BCFS-San Antonio offers for free.
Still, it can be hard to recruit. Foster parents within BCFS-San Antonio hope more families out there will be inspired to help.
“I just think if they’re thinking about fostering to adopt, to just go through it and don’t let negative things that they’ve heard about the whole process stop them from doing it because there’s lots of kids out there that need help,” explained foster mother Nancy Ordaz. She and her husband, Juan, started fostering two years ago. They adopted 2-year-old Juanito and then began fostering his half-sister, 1-year-old Emma Rose. Her adoption was finalized in December 2019.
Some people don’t fully comprehend what fostering to adopt is all about. After Nancy and Juan had their biological daughter Izabella, they felt fostering children was something they wanted to do. However, family members didn’t understand their decision at first.
Juan’s parents questioned why they wouldn’t just have more biological children. Juan said his answer to them was simple. “It’d be selfish of us just to say, ‘I don’t want to deal with that, I just want to have my own kids,’ when we know there’s a whole bunch of kids that don’t have family,” said Juan. Today, his parents adore all his children. In fact, the minute Juanito sees his grandma, he runs straight to her and it becomes difficult to separate the pair.
Nancy has this advice for families hesitant to foster.
“There’s lots of resources out there and there’s lots of training, and just because they’re from foster care or CPS doesn’t mean that they’re going to have problems for the rest of their lives. They might just be short term and you shouldn’t let that stop you.” Nancy reminds families that BCFS-San Antonio will support you through it all, and you are never alone.
At the end of the day, there is one goal in mind: the joy and the happiness of the families and the kids. BCFS-San Antonio believes every child deserves a loving home, whether it’s a temporary home or a forever home.