June is National Reunification Month, a time to celebrate families and communities, raise awareness about the importance of family reunification for children in foster care, and especially to recognize the people and efforts that help families stay together. To that end, no one deserves more recognition for their efforts than Gregory and Barbara Van Leer, a couple who has fostered over 75 children in Washington County, Minnesota.
Heeding a call that their destined path led to serving children in need, the Van Leers applied for a license to foster with the county, and in 1997, they welcomed their first child into their home, followed by many more over the years. They became licensed with St. David’s Center in 2006, referring to us as a “true partner and friend throughout [their] later journey, providing the support and continued education necessary for the care needed.”
This care has always been grounded in a strong belief in reunification. They committed to working with birth parents from the beginning, inviting them into their home and family. In doing so, according to Barbara, “the children in care, as well as the parents, responded better. The children did better in school and participated in our family activities without so much pushback or apprehension. The parents were more at ease and did not see us as an adversary. Most of all, the reunification process went smoother, and we remained a part of the children’s lives.”
This thread of connection is one that often remains intact long after reunification takes place. “To this day,” says Barbara, “many of our children who were reunified and are all grown up still call us Mom or Dad, or Mr. & Mrs. V. They are truly a part of my family. As far as the parents, we are lifelong friends.”
This belief in reunification is also why the Van Leers have been fervent partners and advocates of the Quality Parenting Initiative Minnesota (QPI-MN), a collaborative, community-driven, statewide initiative to fundamentally transform the child welfare system in Minnesota, by improving the experience and outcomes of foster care for the biological and foster parents and foster youth.
After 22 years of welcoming children into their home with love and compassion, Barbara and Gregory are retiring as foster parents, although they will remain steadfast QPI champions and racial equity leaders, advocating for the initiative wherever their path takes them, to expand the exposure of foster care, dispel myths, and raise community awareness.
Join us today, on Family Reunification Day, in paying tribute to the Van Leers, and all of the other foster and biological parents who work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcomes for children and youth in the foster care system.
As we celebrate this month, in the words of Barbara Van Leer, “we are celebrating new and lasting relationships. We are enhancing families with love and understanding, and we are strengthening the community.”