La Mesa couple says fostering children strengthens their marriage

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When Jocelyn and Matthew Watkins found out they were expecting, they moved into a bigger home with a yard large enough for a swing set, puppet theater, and family dog. What made the couple a little different, however, is that they were expecting foster children.

When Jocelyn and Matthew Watkins found out they were expecting, they moved into a bigger home with a yard large enough for a swing set, puppet theater, and family dog. What made the couple a little different, however, is that they were expecting foster children.

“We heard there was a need for families who would keep sibling sets together and we thought we’d better get a bigger place,” Jocelyn Watkins said as she sat next to Matthew in the family room of their La Mesa home, a quiet country house that retains the feeling of its farming roots.

The Watkins home is a child’s paradise with a variety of toys and three-dimensional puzzles neatly set throughout the house. Handmade drawings hang from the walls of the dining room, which is equipped with a high chair and Cookie Monster bib waiting for their preschooler to return home for the day. It looks like the set of a sitcom about a modern family without a problem in the world. In reality, it is a lot of hard work to create a stable home, said the couple, but also very rewarding.

“These kids need love, and they bring more energy and life to our home,” she said. “We’ve become better people and our marriage has grown stronger through the experience.”

Matthew and Jocelyn became foster parents a year ago after they completed extensive screening and training through Angels Foster Family Network. The couple said they like the approach at Angels, which is providing support for stable, loving foster families who are committed to children’s reunification with biological parents whenever possible. Biological families are treated with great respect.

“It’s not us versus them, we work together for what’s best for the children,” said Matthew Watkins.

After providing weekend care for toddler siblings, Jocelyn and Matthew were asked by Angels Foster Family Network to consider a special needs child, a little girl with autism. The little girl, who they call their “Angel,” has been in their care for nearly a year. The couple quickly realized that the puppet shows that were such a hit with the toddler siblings were not going to cut it because the little girl does not respond to imaginative or representational play.

“Things are what they are with her,” said Jocelyn Watkins. That first night with Angel, Matthew took out his guitar and started playing music. “Neil Young, Johnny Cash, she loves it all,” he said. Even though Angel is non-verbal, they could tell she was responding. She rocked back and forth, clapped her hands, and shook her head, all with a big smile on her face. And having that swing set in the backyard – a godsend, said Jocelyn, recalling how Angel spent hours on the swing when she first arrived.

When Angel first came to the Watkins home, the couple also noticed that the little girl seemed preoccupied with food.

“She felt like she had to fend for herself and scavenge for food, but after a while she learned to trust that we were going to feed her,” said Jocelyn Watkins. Part of that trust is the stability of living in a loving home where she is well cared for. The other part is that Jocelyn includes snacks in their after-school routine, which includes speech, occupational, behavioral, and trauma-based play therapy.

“She is very particular — she loves French fries and chicken nuggets,” she said.

Matthew and Jocelyn discussed becoming foster parents even before they married five years ago. They immediately agreed it was something they wanted to do, though Matthew was the one with direct experience in this area.

“When I was in high school, a neighbor had a bad home situation and the child was taken by Child Protective Services,” he recalled. He then became a volunteer counselor through a church in North County and worked at a camp for foster youth.

“It was fun to see kids act like kids, and see that there are other options for life than what they may have been exposed to. Even in the space of one week with an adult loving and caring for them and thinking they’re awesome, it can be enough to give them another way to see the world,” he said.

Some day the couple hopes to adopt and have biological children as well continuing to foster.

For more information on how to become a foster family, or how to support foster families, please visit www.angelsfoster.org.

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