Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

A foster mom in the Santa Maria Valley dreamed of fostering children up until the moment she did. Cynthia, a mom of three girls of her own, thought that once she was done raising her kids, fostering would be the sensible next step. “But that’s not how it worked out for me,” she said. 

In 2013, Cynthia and her husband learned that a relative’s three children were removed from their home. So they stepped up, applied to foster them, and provided kinship care — when family members or close family friends foster a child — for 14 months. 

Fostering, it turned out, was not as easy for Cynthia as just wanting to foster, nor as easy as raising her own children (although that wasn’t easy, either). 

The new set of foster parents (who requested to only use their first names to protect their and their children’s privacy) had more questions than answers, and they had no program or community to fall back on like Santa Barbara County foster parents do now. 

Even though they were family, they were not prepared. Genes don’t tell you how to raise a child, and there is no “Fostering Your Cousin’s Kids for Dummies” help book.

“It was like walking through the dark,” Cynthia said. “We had no idea what we were doing.”

Struggles like Cynthia’s inspired the launch of Family & Friends Together (FFT) in July this year, a new kinship program that provides intensive, trauma-informed support to kinship families caring for foster children from birth to age 5 in Santa Barbara County. 

According to County Social Services, there are more than 380 children across the region in need of a foster home due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect. 

FFT was launched by Angels Foster Care — a nonprofit that provides homes for infants and toddlers up to age 5 in foster care throughout Santa Barbara County — in partnership with Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services, the Towbes Foundation, the Bower Foundation, the Hazen Foundation, and other private donors.

Holly Carmody, CEO of Angels Foster Care. | Credit: Courtesy 

The program — which has helped seven families thus far, referred by child welfare services— provides case management, referrals, individualized education, and brief therapeutic intervention to kinship caregivers and the children they are fostering. 

“Family members caring for children in foster care face unique challenges,” said Holly Carmody, executive director of Angels Foster Care. “They often deal with fear, guilt, and anger, and they may have challenges navigating complex family relationships.”

Carmody explained that the free program is meant to add an “extra layer of support for the family,” such as providing advice and training, helping them navigate the courts, and assisting with basic childcare like doctor’s appointments and education, to name a few. 

A small but qualified team of social workers with Angels work with families across Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties — with the greatest need in Northern Santa Barbara County — to craft a personalized plan and “make sure that these kinship families are successful” while the children are going through a difficult time, Carmody said. 

Young children are particularly vulnerable to developmental problems when not in a safe, stable environment during their transformative years. 

“It’s preferable for the children to be able to be placed with family members because these are people that they already know,” Carmody said. “It’s traumatic to be in the foster care system; to be pulled out of the only home you’ve known. Anything that we can do to ease that trauma for children, and keep them in a consistent environment, is a positive thing for the child’s development.”

“We have already begun to see the positive impact on families going through the program, and we look forward to our continued work together to offer caregivers the comprehensive support they need,” said Amy Krueger, deputy director of adult and children’s services at the Santa Barbara County Department of Social Services.

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Cynthia, for one, was unequipped for her first experience with kinship fostering. It was taxing. When the kids were returned to their home, she was left feeling confused and discouraged.

“I just felt broken; I really wanted to foster but just felt like maybe it just wasn’t for me,” she said.

After a few months of resignation, however, there came a turning point, in the form of an ad in the newspaper. It was for Angels Foster Care, and Cynthia was drawn to fostering in the birth-to-age-5 range. “I can do that,” she thought to herself. Before she knew it, she was training through Angels. 

“All my questions that I had while I was kinship fostering were answered,” she explained. “I knew exactly what was expected of me, and it wasn’t confusing anymore. Angels felt like a family.” 

Over a period of seven years, Cynthia fostered around 15 children through Angels (which gets referrals from the County). Angels connected her with the little one she is fostering now, nicknamed Tarzan from when he was 3 with long hair. He was nonverbal, as well, making him slightly different than the kids Cynthia and her husband fostered in the past. 

“We grew to love him quickly,” she said. 

Cynthia and her husband have fostered the child on and off while his mother has struggled with her health, therefore qualifying them as close family friends and kinship caregivers. At the request and blessing of his mother, they will soon be taking on the role of permanent caregivers for Tarzan. 

“His beginning is not awesome, but his ending will be,” Cynthia said. “There’s always a little sadness when it comes to what I do. We just have to do our best to be supportive and honor this agreement with his mom.”

Throughout the entire process, Angels social workers have been a helping hand, through home visits and follow-ups. 

“They’re that kind of buffer,” Cynthia said. “I call it a soft place to fall. Because they are just very helpful, very kind. They feel like home.” 

It was the training and support from Angels that also prepared Cynthia for the fostering and adoption of her 7-year-old grandson, following the tragic and sudden death of her eldest daughter. Her voice broke speaking about it. 

“This is where it gets sad,” she said. 

Her grandson was coming from another state, and for a variety of circumstances, she had to handle guardianship and the process of adopting him all on her own. Right now, she is taking care of both her grandson Isaiah and her foster son. But she can fall back on the Angels community if she ever needs to.

“After all of the training that I had gotten from Angels, I was very capable to handle everything that I had to do with my grandson alone,” she said. “I felt like my own little social worker.” 

Cynthia emphasized that there are many kids in the county in need of a home, and accordingly, a great need for families and individuals willing to foster kids. To learn more about fostering, Angels Foster Care, or the FFT program, contact (805) 884-0012 or visit


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