Fostering a Loving Home
Bloodlines have little to do with family for Elko foster parents
By Dianna Troyer
Unanswerable questions nagged at Bill Collins as he waited at Elko Regional Airport to deliver 16-month-old Janice to her biological father.
“She was our first foster child and the sweetest girl,” Bill says. “My wife and the social worker couldn’t take her because they felt it would be too sad for them. I thought it wouldn’t be an issue for me, but it was. It was heartbreaking, hearing her cry and seeing her expression. She couldn’t understand what was going on, why I was giving her to a stranger.”
Bill says he wondered if Janice would have a good home and whether he and his wife, Tonya, would ever see her again.
As foster parents in Elko County, Bill, 60, and Tonya, 45, have cared for 33 children from newborns to 10-year-olds. At the time they cared for Janice, they were living in Carlin, where Bill worked as a lineman for Wells Rural Electric Co., and Tonya was a cosmetologist.
“We still keep in touch with many of them as if they were our own kids,” Tonya says. “We couldn’t have kids of our own, so we were determined to have a family one way or another. Our journey started in 1998 and eventually led us to adopt our two sons.”
Social workers at the county’s Division of Child and Family Services often referred children to the couple because they welcomed those with special needs.
“Some foster parents aren’t comfortable being responsible for special needs kids, but not us,” Bill says. “We took care of kids with epilepsy and asthma. It didn’t bother us. My family and friends have had epileptic seizures. Tonya has asthma, so we knew what we were getting into.”
One of the Collins’ other strengths was their willingness to support a foster child’s reunification with biological parents, says Brandy Holbrook, DCFS District 1 social services manager in Elko.
“They often established relationships with the birth family to ensure the foster children had familiar contact with them, in some cases even after adoption,” Brandy says.
More foster parents like Bill and Tonya are needed in Elko County, Brandy says.
She relies on 15 licensed foster care families in West Wendover, Elko and Spring Creek.
“There is a foster home crisis in Elko County much like the statewide need for foster homes,” she says. “When children can’t stay safely in their care provider’s home, they’re moved to the nearest available foster home, which may remove them from their community and school. It’s traumatic, so if they can remain in their community it lessens the trauma.”
Some foster parents, like Bill and Tonya, adopt the children they care for. To raise awareness about adoption, especially for those in foster care, Elko County celebrates National Adoption Awareness Month every November.
This year, Elko judges picked November 15 as the day to devote their courtrooms to legalizing adoptions for kids coming from foster care or private situations involving extended family or stepparents.
“For us, celebrating our sons’ adoption day is as important as their birthday,” Tonya says. “Every year, we have two parties.”
Howie, 19, was adopted September 2, 2003. Druzton, 16, legally became part of the family December 19, 2005. Before Bill and Tonya could adopt, the boys’ biological parents had to relinquish custody.
“Howie was in Fallon with his dad out of the picture due to drugs and his mom unable to care for him,” Tonya says. “We’ve kept in touch with his dad’s side of the family. They came to his high school graduation.”
Howie works for Pilot Thomas Logistics in Carlin. Druzton was 5 weeks old when a social worker called to see if Bill and Tonya would foster him.
“I told her I didn’t even want to know the details and asked her how soon she would bring him,” Tonya says. “It was a Friday in December with the busyness of the holidays, but we had his room ready with a crib by Monday.”
With his parents’ encouragement, Druzton has become an accomplished wrestler. A sophomore, he competes for the Spring Creek High School Spartans. Last year, he won a USA Wrestling Nevada state championship at 119 pounds. The Spartans’ wrestling team has won the North 3A Division state title the past three years.
“We moved to Spring Creek to give him the opportunity to be part of their program,” says Bill, an engineering technician and lineman who works in WREC’s Wells office.
While providing a forever home for Howie and Dru, the Collins always wondered about their first foster child, Janice. Nearly two decades after Bill took her to the airport, his question of whether she would even remember them was finally answered.
“About 18 months ago, she found us on Facebook,” Bill says. “She lives in Arkansas and has two kids. We’re figuring out a time to get together.”
Bill and Tonya encourage others to become foster parents.
“It’s challenging,” Bill says, “but the rewards are worth it.”
To become a foster parent, call DCFS in Elko at 775-753-1300 or 888-423-2659.