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Millers enjoy being local foster parents

Mary Le Arneal
Foster Parents - the Millers
John and Jo Miller of Fremont have made room in their home for many children by becoming foster parents. The Millers have accepted 65 children into their home during the past 12 years.
By Mary Le Arneal
Fremont Tribune - reprinted with permission.

May 17, 2001 - He came into their home with an attitude. They shared their rules.

He told them his. He told them, "I don't like casseroles."

So Mom fixed him cheese or peanut butter sandwiches each meal a casserole was served.

One day, she fixed a pot pie with leftover roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy. He ate heartily.

"I thought you didn't like casseroles," Dad said.

"You call this casserole?!" he said.

And there were no more eating problems, and this was the beginning.

John and Jo Miller have made room in their home and their hearts for many children.

The local residents raised three of their own children during a 25-year period. When the last one left home in 1988, the Millers found they did not like their empty nest. To fill this emptiness, they became foster parents, accepting 65 children into their home during the past 12 years.

The Millers have been Fremont-area residents for 35 years. John worked in management and law enforcement before a heart attack put him into retirement. Jo was a stay-at-home mom.

When the Millers first decided to become foster parents, they took 21 hours of classes covering subjects such as discipline, methods of dealing with adolescents, and suggestions for care as well as cost and reimbursement. They had to have personal references, home studies, background information, their records checked for a criminal history as well as have their house inspected by Social Services and the Nebraska State Fire Marshal.

They are able to accept one to six foster children in their home. The Millers started out with little children, but realized they worked better with adolescents. So they now accept youths ages 12-18, but don't accept both boys and girls at the same time. They also are cautious about the age range. Presently, the Millers have four foster daughters, ages 12 to 16.

The Millers do mostly long-term foster care; having the children in their home up to five years.

"We try to start a new life for them. We don't go by their past history," Jo said. "Until they prove we cannot trust them, we trust them. They don't do our housework. They are not responsible for what a parent is responsible for. They have responsibilities, but they are not overwhelming. We do the Mom and Dad stuff for them. Too many times, these children have been responsible for younger siblings. We try to let them be children themselves."

The Millers' daughter and husband, Tammy and James Tison of Cedar Bluffs, also take foster children. If there is a family of children, she will take the younger ones, so there is still the family connection, but the older siblings are not responsible for the younger ones.

When a child comes into their home, the Millers sit down with them and their social worker and go over their list of printed rules. These are common sense, courtesy rules that they have developed throughout the years.

"This way the child knows what our expectations are," Jo said.

"If the child doesn't think they can follow them, other arrangements are made," John said.

School and grades are top priorities.

"Frequently these children come with failing grades, because they haven't had time to do their schoolwork," John said. "We give them time and the environment to do their schoolwork and stress the importance of good grades."

The Millers attend parent-teacher conferences and any other activity involving parents of students at Fremont Public Schools.

"We want these children to be treated as the Miller's kids," Jo said, "Not foster kids. We become as involved as any other parent."

If a child is suspended from school, she must attend "Mom's school." They get up at the usual school time, and spend the morning in a small room with a computer and desk doing their schoolwork; they have a half hour for lunch, and then spend the afternoon in the "schoolroom." If they run out of schoolwork to do, they copy from the encyclopedia or dictionary. If time is wasted, they write a 10-page report on their action, what they did wrong and how they can handle it better.

"We don't have too much suspension from school," Jo said with a chuckle.

The children can earn a weekly allowance by doing the evening dishes three times a week, keeping their room clean and cleaning their bathroom after they use it. If they choose, they can volunteer to do extra work for which they will be paid. On Saturdays, everyone is given one household chore they must complete by noon.

"They need to know that no one is going to hand them things," Jo said. "They get the impression that every thing is easy-come, easy-go. We try to make them responsible for their own spending money, for their actions. If they want to become couch potatoes, they don't get paid. If you only do dishes two times and expect to get paid, you don't, because a boss wouldn't let you do that."

The girls help keep the house orderly. They have to buy back items left in the living room. "I am not their maid," Jo said. "I am their keeper, their overseer. It teaches them to take care of their stuff."

For special needs, the Friends of Foster Care organization helps with added expenses. Senior pictures, class rings, bicycles, team uniforms, extra trips with their class are all important to the adolescents feeling of belonging and self-esteem.

"To raise their self-esteem, we try to push them to be important, to contribute to a group," Jo said. "Often the children just need a normal self-esteem. These extra things are important to feel a part of the group."

Some of their best times occur when they sit with their children talking, playing cards.

"Some will really open up," Jo said of their summer evenings on the porch.

"We treat them as our own," John said. "They are all special in their own way."

The Millers treat this as a full-time job. In addition to their three adult children, they keep in touch with most of the foster children they have had throughout the years. Their family has expanded to include nine biological and 12 foster grandchildren.

"We could not have done this without the support of our children," Jo said. "They accept the foster children as part of the family, including them in all family occasions."

Jo said the job of foster parenting is ideal for her and her husband because it offers rewards hard to find anywhere else.

"The more you can show these children you love them, and you care about them, the easier your job is," she said

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