Having been adopted by loving parents, Nanci Weinstein had long considered adopting a child of her own.
When the Solana Beach mother of two began researching her options online a few years ago, however, she came across Angels Foster Family Network, a San Diego-based nonprofit, licensed foster family agency.
“It was the first time that I really thought of foster care as not just a Band-Aid, but a solution to a major problem,” said Weinstein, whose family has lived in Solana Beach for four years.
After learning more about the organization, Weinstein and her husband, David, a retired lieutenant colonel with the United States Marine Corps, decided to become foster parents. At the time, David was still active duty military, so the family didn’t know how long they would be in Solana Beach, but they were excited to welcome their first foster child into their home.
Today, the Weinstein family is currently fostering their third child.
The couple became certified foster parents in November 2013. Just after the holidays, in January 2014, they picked up their first foster child. The 7-month-old boy stayed with the family for about five weeks before he went on to live with his grandmother.
“It was great because that’s the point of what we do — we stand in the gap until another permanent situation comes along that’s safe for that child,” said Weinstein, a travel agent who works from home.
Even though it was such a short case, the Weinstein family has kept in touch with the now 3-year-old boy and his family. The two families have even visited the zoo together.
“There’s a bond that you can create if the biological parents are open to it,” Weinstein said.
The Weinstein family quickly formed a very strong bond with their second foster child, and eventually, her family.
The father occasionally calls and the mother texts and sends picture of her now 2-year-old daughter every day. The families have also used FaceTime to stay in touch. Weinstein also recently visited the family in Texas.
“I like seeing my mom and her mom connected and very happy,” Weinstein’s oldest daughter Grace Anne said with a big smile. “They’re very, very close.”
In July 2014, David and Nanci Weinstein picked up the 3-week-old girl from the neonatal intensive care unit at Tri-City Medical Center, where the premature baby was being treated for health complications.
The family later learned she had craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which one or more of the joints between the bones of the baby’s skull close prematurely, before the baby’s brain is fully formed. And when the baby girl had surgery, Weinstein stayed with her at the hospital while she recuperated — which surprised some of the hospital staff.
“It was far more than we initially dreamed we’d have to go through, but I think that’s part of foster care,” said Weinstein, whose former foster daughter also had two minor surgeries following her first major surgery. “If I wasn’t taking care of her, who would be able to take her to these doctor appointments? Who would be able to stay with her at the hospital?
“It wasn’t even a thought in my mind. Had it been one of my own children, I would have stayed,” she added. “This is a child in my care. I love her as my own while she’s in my care, so of course I’m going to stay with her.”
The girl became a part of the Weinstein family for 13 months.
The girl may never know that she was once placed in foster care. She was reunited with her biological parents when she was 14 months old.
But it doesn’t matter to Weinstein whether she’s known as her former foster mom or “auntie.”
“What she knows me as is not as important as just the fact that I get to see that she’s well and happy and healthy and growing,” Weinstein said.
Because of the family’s strong bond with the girl, it was difficult when she went back to her biological family, especially for Weinstein.
“There was a grieving process for sure,” Weinstein admitted.
“The day that I literally was handing her back, I was bawling, but I was crying happy tears and sad tears,” she said. “I was equally happy for her parents as I was sad for me. But I knew our time was done. I wasn’t meant to raise her and that would have felt wrong had I kept her.”
After such a long case, Weinstein made it a point to ask her daughters, now 13-year-old Grace Anne and 9-year-old Rebecca, whether they were ready for another foster brother or foster sister. They had become very attached to their foster sister.
“If I had two children that weren’t willing to help out that would make it much more difficult,” Weinstein said. “But they’re always ready to help me and that makes it a true family commitment.”
As a family, Weinstein said, they feel they were called to help foster children.
“There’s a lot that I’ve learned,” said Grace Anne, a seventh grader at Santa Fe Christian Schools, who plans to foster children when she’s an adult. “The bond that you get to have with the baby is amazing. Seeing a baby hit milestones has been really important to me. Their life started in such a dark place but they are such a happy and cheerful child.”
“We’ve seen it work and we’ve seen the fruits of that sacrifice,” Weinstein said. “Rosy pictures don’t happen every day, but I do think whether a child is reunified or adopted, there’s a happy ending for that child.”
The couple picked up their third foster child, a 2-day-old boy, at the end of September 2015.
“He’s been happy and healthy,” Weinstein said as she was holding her foster son. “He’s starting to crawl and everything.”
Since David has transitioned out of the military, the Weinstein family decided to stay in Solana Beach, where the girls can continue to attend Santa Fe Christian Schools and the family can continue to support Angels Foster Family Network.
Currently, there are about 3,500 children in the San Diego County foster care system, nearly 1,400 of whom are younger than 5 years old.
Angels Foster Family Network has provided foster homes to nearly 800 children, newborn to 5 years old, since the organization was founded in 1998.
“I feel very passionate about the Angels model and how it works,” Weinstein said. “I can invest in one child at a time — or a sibling set — and one family at a time.
“Is it slower? I’m not changing the world or anything, but we’re doing for one what we’d like to do for a million.”
About 70 percent of the children are reunified with one or both of their parents or a relative. About 30 percent are adopted. Of those adopted, about 50 percent of the children placed have been adopted by their Angels families.
The San Diego-based nonprofit organization has long been known for the hands-on support it provides its foster families, which is one of the reasons it has a high retention rate. Although some families stop fostering after they adopt or move, Angels Foster Family Network has been able to retain 85 percent of its foster parents over the past couple of years.
“I’ve seen how it can really change lives,” said Weinstein, whose clinical case manager visits weekly. “I feel really, really strongly that more families could do this, and I feel like Angels is changing the face of foster care.”
Although Weinstein’s parents adopted her as an infant in a closed adoption, she was under the care of others for the first two months of her life. Knowing that played a part in Weinstein becoming a foster parent.
“Somebody else cared for me until the adoption was finalized,” Weinstein said. “I always thought somehow it would come full circle.
“I’m so grateful that we found Angels because instead of adopting just one child, I’m touching more families. We are able to do this over and over again because of Angels.”
For more about Angels Foster Family Network, visit angelsfoster.org.