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Clark County couple shares experience as foster parents

Whenever the subject of farm chores comes up, 13-year-old Bailey and his foster father, Evan Ensign, exchange looks and smiles as if sharing an inside joke.

Having lived in a city for most of his childhood, Bailey has spent the last few months learning to do things like mucking out a barn, feeding calves and bedding cows.

“It’s been a big change, but I’ve gotten into it,” he says.

Still, he insists that waking up at 8 or 8:30 in the morning is not that late — though his foster dad’s facial expression might suggest otherwise.

“He only has to come into the barn in the afternoon, so...,” he said.

Evan’s wife, Taylor, explains that Bailey always gets his school work done first before he starts his chores.

For the Ensigns, who live on a dairy farm north of Dorchester, the arrival of Bailey back in March represented just the second time they’ve hosted a foster child since becoming certified by the Clark County Department of Human Services in January.

In February, less than a week after they had received their license, they took on their first foster child, who only stayed for a couple of days as part of a temporary placement.

“That was a really good experience for both of us,” Taylor said, noting that it gave her and her husband an opportunity to find out what it’s like to have a child come in and out of their lives.

“In that 48 hours, we got more attached to him than we realized we would,” she said.

The idea of becoming foster parents came from Taylor, who told Evan about her interest in fostering kids long before they got married.

“Growing up, my parents were foster parents, so it was something I always wanted to do,” she said. “Once we got married, we decided ‘Why not? It’s now or never.’” After contacting the Clark County Department of Human Services, they were sent a packet of introductory information to review, the first step in the journey to becoming foster parents.

“It was a much more intense process than we ever thought was going to happen,” Taylor said.

Evan said it took a minimum of 10 hours of being interviewed by the county’s foster care coordinator. He said they discussed how to deal with different scenarios and answered questions on their family background. One three-hour session focused on their marriage and how they deal with conflict.

“She asked us questions that we’ve never asked each other before,” Taylor said. “Not that they were hard questions; it’s just stuff you don’t think about necessarily until someone brings it up.”

It took the Ensigns almost a year to get certified, but Evan said they were not pushing to get it done right away.

“She can do it a lot faster if people want to get certified immediately,” he said, referring to foster care coordinator Lisa Ochodnicky.

The couple, who have been married since 2017, had their first meeting with Ochodnicky at the beginning of 2019 and were certified in January of this year.

Bailey has now been with the Ensigns for three months, and says he’s happy to be with a nice family after coming out of an unstable home environment.

“I get to do a lot more stuff,” he said. “I feel a lot more safe around here than I did when I lived with my mom.”

Transferring from the Greenwood School District to Colby schools has been quite a transition, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Schools were shut down less than two weeks after he arrived at the Ensign household, so like other kids his age, Bailey did all of his learning online through Google Classroom.

“It’s been a tough transition for him, schoolwork-wise, because he was just starting to learn who the teachers were and some of his classmates,” Taylor said.

Taylor said it helped that teachers maintained virtual office hours, so he could chat with them if he needed to.

“Bailey does pretty well keeping up with homework. He’s a very smart kid, so he doesn’t need a lot of extra help,” she said. “Sometimes, there’s a nudge or two to get stuff turned in, but he’s pretty good about it.”

Bailey said he got to know a couple of his Colby classmates before the shutdown, but he’s also lost contact with his friends in Greenwood because he no longer has his old Snapchat account.

With the school year officially ending on June 6, Bailey said he’s looking forward to summer break, “and being able to sleep in every day.”

As he prepares to enter eighth-grade next year, Bailey said he’s interested in playing baseball during the summer and perhaps football in the fall. He also plans to visit his grandfather in Owen and see his sister, who is still living with their mother.

Bailey has become something of an older brother to the Ensigns’ ninemonth- old daughter, Edlin. Taylor says he does really well with her.

When asked if he’s had to change any diapers, he says: “No, not yet. Keyword, yet.”

Looking ahead, Taylor said the hope is to get Bailey placed with a family member, but his parents have certain steps to take before he can return home.

Since each foster child is in their own unique situation, Taylor said social services tries to find a long-term solution that best fits that child.

“Permanence is their end goal,” she said. “They don’t want these kids to be jumping around from home to home and going back and forth very often, because that transition is hard on everyone involved.”

For the Ensigns, the possibility of taking on additional foster children depends on a variety of factors, including the enlargement of basement windows so they can create a couple more bedrooms.

“One of my goals with this was to be able to keep sibling groups together,” she said. “It all depends of what kind of cases Clark County is working with.”

Continuing support from the county has been helpful for the young couple, who rely on guidance from social service workers for how to handle issues unique to teenagers.

“They’re very good about supporting us in any way they can,” she said. “Being new to this, we have stepped into many things we’ve never dealt with before.”

Since they are still within their first two years of being licensed, the Ensigns said they need a total of 40 more hours of continuing education classes.

Taylor, who was eight years old when her parents took their last group of foster children, said she still remembers what it was like getting to know the foster kids as if they were her siblings and then having to say goodbye to them at some point.

“That was a different experience as a kid, not really being able to process it that much, because we didn’t know nearly as much as our parents did about what was happening outside of our house,” she said.

As advice for those thinking about becoming foster parents, Taylor says “go into each case with an open mind,” realizing that every child wants to improve their living situation as much as you do as their foster parent. Evan said foster parents also need to be prepared for a wide variety of experiences.

“Every case is so different; both of ours were completely opposites,” he said.

Taylor says patience is key. It may take awhile for certain lessons to sink in — such as throwing candy wrappers away or wearing shirts the right way out — but she says it’s worth the effort.

“If you think it’s a transition for yourself to go through this, to bring a child into the home, that child goes through a lot bigger transition than we do,” she said.

Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent in Clark County can contact Lisa Ochodnicky, foster care coordinator, at 715-743-5233 or by email at lisa.ochodnicky@