Shelly and Tami Sepulveda’s journey of starting a family began in the hospital, not unlike any other family’s story begins. At the time, both of them were neonatal nurses, and there was a baby Tami was caring for in the NICU who was in need of a medical foster placement. His name was Isaac and he was born with only one lung trachea. For six months, Tami was Isaac’s nurse. She worked with him every day and grew an attachment to him.
Eventually, Isaac was placed in a medical group home, where he, unfortunately, passed away not too long after from medical abuse and neglect. Shelly said, “[Tami] was really hurt by that and didn’t want that to happen to any other kids from that point on.” That’s what really started the couple on the path of foster care and adoption.
The couple began opening their home as a foster-to-adopt placement when their one biological son, Samuel, was four years old. With both having experience in the medical field as nurses, many of the children they took in had extra medical needs, physical needs, emotional needs, or behavioral needs – all of which MARE considers, “harder to place” children.
“We’ve had over seventeen children in our home, and the ones that cannot go back home are the ones that we ended up adopting,” Shelly said.
In total, the couple has adopted five children from foster care, and have a total of six children. In order, they are Samuel, who is their fourteen-year-old biological son. Shaelin and Abby are both eleven; Tyler and Kameron are ten, and their youngest, Noah, is five. One of their children is in remission from Ewing Sarcoma and has PTSD, one of their children is autistic, and one is prone to infectious diseases.
Adoption is rightfully an important topic in their household, despite having had most of their children since they were babies. “Sometimes, our conversations at the dinner table might not be what a normal family would have. We’re open with our children about the circumstances, why they’re in the system. We let them ask, we don’t guide,” Shelly said.
Letting the children ask the questions allows for them to take in and process information at the speed they deem fit for themselves. Overloading children with information they may not be ready for, or may not fully understand, can be incredibly overwhelming. This is why Shelly and Tami are strong advocates of letting the children ask the questions and being open without much, or any, overt guiding.
Mainly, Shelly says, her children need two specific things to thrive. “They want consistency, and they want structure.”
Shelly and Tami have had their son Kameron for about three years now. The first year, they received calls from his school nearly every day about behavioral issues. The second year they had him, the calls decreased significantly. During the most recent school year, they did not receive a single call about any negative behaviors. And, Kameron is now performing at grade-level in all subjects. They attribute these positive changes in their son to consistency and structure provided at their home.
Not only is it the parents’ duty to care for and teach their children, children can also teach a lot to parents, especially those adopted from foster care.
“The resiliency in these kids is unbelievable. It’s so unbelievable, it drives Tami and I to keep going… they motivate us, they keep us going, and they keep us young, obviously. They really do. They were born in a circumstance that not many of us are born into. They really want to overcome that circumstance, they don’t let that circumstance define who they are, and I want people to know that,” Shelly said proudly about her children.
Shelly and Tami’s biological son, Sam, has gained many insights and has developed an open attitude from his younger siblings. He is very respectful and receptive towards those who are disabled and extends a hand to help them in countless ways. Many of his closest friends have disabilities.
Shelly, Tami, and the entire Sepulveda family have one main goal: promoting the positivity of foster care and the positivity of adopting through foster care. Shelly recognizes that there are many misconceptions when it comes to adoption tries to debunk those misconceptions whenever possible. Shelly explains that you can work and foster or adopt; and also, the state insures children from foster care who have medical needs. But, most importantly of all, Shelly and the Sepulveda family stresses that foster kids are just like any other kid. They may have gone through trauma which the average person may not understand, but they are not damaged. They want a home, they want love, stability, and a family.
Shelly notes, “If people just saw our kids, see how resilient they are, it wouldn’t deter them…it would motivate people, and that’s why we do what we do.”