Angels Foster Family Network executive director aims to find loving home for all foster kids

Jeff Wiemann knows firsthand what it’s like to care for a child in need.

Not long after serving as a foster father himself, Wiemann took the helm at Angels Foster Family Network in 2013.

“I have a very unique perspective on what it’s like to be a foster parent and so when I came in here, it made me focus on everything that we could do for the foster parents,” Wiemann said.

The San Diego-based nonprofit organization has long been known for the support it provides its foster families, but Wiemann wanted to do even more.

Since Wiemann became executive director, Angels Foster Family Network has hired former foster parents. And when the licensed foster family agency outgrew its former location — the agency has grown from 11 people to 15 staff members — Wiemann looked for a new home that had a large space for family visits.

“Fostering’s not easy. Fostering’s not for everyone,” Wiemann said. “But a lot more people would foster if they knew that there was an agency like Angels that supports them every step of the way.”

In July 2013, Wiemann and his wife became a certified foster family through Angels Foster Family Network. The couple have four children of their own but wanted more.

“My wife and I wanted to have more, but of course, at some point, age takes over,” he said. “So we figured, ‘Let’s see how we can give back to the community.’”

Within about a week after completing their training, they picked up their foster son from Polinsky Children’s Center in San Diego.

The 6-week-old boy was dressed in two onesies and strapped into a car seat. He was cold.

“He looked in shock,” Wiemann recalled. “He didn’t cry, he didn’t coo, he didn’t do anything, for really, the first two to three weeks. That’s because of all the trauma that he had been through in the first six weeks of his life and then just the trauma of coming into care.

“But after that time, he opened up and started smiling and started crying, which we’re celebrating because that meant he felt safe.”

Although the infant only spent four-and-a-half months with the family, it forever changed their lives.

“As a family, it brought us closer together,” said Wiemann, whose family lives in La Mesa. “It was amazing to see our children accept another child as their own without question and love on him as a sibling.”

At the time, his oldest daughter was 11. Now, she is almost 14 years old. His 7-year-old twins — one boy and one girl — are now almost 11. His youngest son was 2 years old and is now 5.

“Everybody was impacted in a positive way,” Wiemann said. “They go through the emotions and the loss, but you’ve taught them how to love somebody else and how to give back and to care. We’d do it again and again and again and again.”

The family has also become very close with their foster son and brother’s family.

Wiemann has served as a mentor to the boy’s biological father, who has been in and out of prison. When the boy was in the Wiemann family’s care, they maintained contact with him.

He called his son twice every day. The Wiemanns also played a recorded message with his voice from a stuffed bear for the boy every night.

“Because we taught that child how to bond with us and how to bond with his dad — that’s a gift that child’s going to have the rest of his life,” Wiemann said.

The boy, who will soon be 3 years old, has since been reunified with his grandmother, who is going through the process to adopt him.

“He’s thriving,” Wiemann said with a big smile. “He’s a little rambunctious toddler, which is great.”

About the time the Wiemann family was preparing to transfer their foster son and brother back to his family, Wiemann learned that Angels Foster Family Network was looking for an executive director to help them transition from a founder-led organization to one led by a professional staff and governed by an independent board of directors.

“It’s all about timing,” Wiemann reflected. “It’s all about being in the right spot at the right time because if our foster son would not have been reunified with his grandmother, I couldn’t work here. So it was that timing, this timing and just everything aligned.

“What better than to have one of your foster parents come in and run the organization?”

Prior to his work with Angels, Wiemann, 48, focused his efforts on providing strategic leadership and management advisory services as an independent consultant. His industry experience included the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, state and local government, corporate security, emergency preparedness and response, risk management, software, technology and education.

Before he created his consulting practice, Wiemann served as the chief executive officer of the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter of the American Red Cross. He also previously served as the deputy chief of business operations for the San Diego Unified School District, as well as chief operating officer of Network Insight, vice president of program and events for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the executive director of Fleet Week San Diego.

Wiemann, who holds a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering from the United

States Naval Academy and a master’s in executive leadership from the University of San Diego, also served as a naval officer for eight years.

Since signing on as executive director of Angels Foster Family Network in 2013, Wiemann has helped grow the organization, nearly doubling its annual budget to $2.35 million and increasing the number of children and families it serves each year.

Before Wiemann came on board, Angels had about 50 children in its care. Now, the organization has 65. Angels previously had roughly 50 families. Now, the organization has more than 80.

“We’ve grown and that’s great, but it’s sad because the need is so great,” Wiemann said. “We’ve got many more families, but the challenge is we don’t have enough families.”

Last year, the organization turned away 150 children.

“That’s 150 kids that didn’t get the high-quality homes that we have,” Wiemann said. “The difference in our homes is that our parents from the beginning make the commitment to the stability of care of that child until otherwise decided by the court or the county. In traditional foster care, a family can put in a notice at any time. That’s very sad that they can do that. It’s also really damaging on the kids, because what we find is that, especially kids 5 and younger, they’ll bounce from home to home to home.”

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.

“I think, generally, people know about fostering, but they don’t,” Wiemann said. “They think everything’s working OK. They don’t realize that in their own backyard there’s all these kids of all ages that are going without homes that really need homes.”

Angels Foster Family Network has provided foster homes to nearly 800 children, newborn to 5 years old, since the organization was founded in 1998.

“The focus really is stability of care and helping heal the trauma that brought them into care,” Wiemann said. “But the ultimate goal is always reunification with the parents. That takes a lot of work.”

About 70 percent of the children are reunified with one or both of their parents or a relative, Wiemann said. About 30 percent are adopted. Of those adopted, about 50 percent of the children placed have been adopted by their Angels families.

While proud of the organization’s growth, Wiemann is even more proud of Angels Foster Family Network’s retention rate. Although some families stop fostering after they adopt or move, the agency has been able to retain 85 percent of its foster parents over the past couple of years.

“That says we’re doing something right,” Wiemann said. “We care. We’re there for our families. We support them and they know that. That’s what I’m most proud of — the retention and the kids that we’re helping.”

It costs about $8,000 to recruit, train and certify a family. That process takes three to six months.

Of Angels Foster Family Network’s annual budget, $1.6 million comes from county, state and federal funding for the children that come into the agency’s care. This money goes to run the organization and support the foster families. It also goes toward the foster parent stipends.

The rest of the agency’s budget — $750,000 — comes from fundraising, including the organization’s annual event, other fundraisers, foundations and grants, and individual and corporate giving.

Angels Foster Family Network’s annual “Fostering Futures” event is set for May 20 at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad. Starting at 6 p.m., the event will feature dinner, dancing and a live auction.

Single tickets cost $250 and couple tickets cost $500. Table tickets, which include 10, cost $2,500. Omni La Costa Resort & Spa is located at 2100 Costa Del Mar Road.

“We want to make sure that any child that’s in need of a loving foster home has one and we’re not there,” Wiemann said.

“If anybody has any interest in helping kids in our community here, purchase a ticket,” he added. “If they can’t attend, make a donation for the event. All that money goes directly to recruiting more families and supporting the ones that we currently have.”

For more about Angels Foster Family Network, or to purchase tickets to the event, visit angelsfoster.org.

Copyright © 2017, Del Mar Times
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