WORTHINGTON - When Daeng and Amy Khamphanh volunteered three years ago to become foster parents, it was just one more way to live out their motto - to serve God by serving others.
Taking in foster children, whether in an emergency situation or longer term, was something Amy had wanted to do for many years. After she and Daeng - her elementary school classmate and high school prom date - married, they’d considered applying to be foster parents. Then they became pregnant with their first child and the plans were temporarily set aside.
Still, the idea lingered through Natya’s baby and toddler years, and then Kaden’s baby and toddler years.
When Kaden was 3 and Natya 7, Daeng and Amy decided it was time to start living out their mission of service to others.
They became licensed foster parents in January 2015 and have welcomed nine different children into their home in the months and years since. Two of those children spent just one night in the Khamphanh home, while others have spent several weeks to several months. Their longest fosters were with them for 15 months - a brother and sister - and they were adopted into a forever home.
Saying goodbye to them was bittersweet, not only for Daeng and Amy, but for their children as well. They’d spent two Christmases together and did everything a typical family would do. They were happy, though, to see the siblings adopted into a loving home.
“Then, the next (foster children) come and we just adjust and do it over again,” Amy shared. “At the end of the day, it’s worth it. Even if they’re not here long, maybe we can give them a little happiness, a little hope. Maybe they can see a loving family. If we can show them a little bit what a loving family looks like, they know that we care for them.”
“In the end, it’s just about the kid,” added Daeng.
They both love kids and want to see them safe and happy.Making an impact
The Khamphanhs say that while a lot of people get into foster care with the intention of adopting, that wasn’t the case for them.
“We don’t ever plan to do that,” Amy said. “We just want to care for kids until they transition into their home or into their forever home.”
When they initially became licensed, the couple agreed to take up to three children. For them, it was a way to ease into foster care and not be overwhelmed. After the first year - and a move to a larger home with two extra bedrooms - they increased their licensure to six children.
The increase required a more thorough home inspection that led to the replacement of several windows, added fireproofing, the installation of more smoke detectors and completing an inspection by the fire marshal, which Amy said was important to do no matter how many children they had.
With the increased licensure, Amy wanted to maintain their age preference - children ages 10 and younger - based on the ages of their own children.
“We’re an option for larger sibling groups,” Amy said, adding that their spare bedrooms are filled with bunk beds, twin beds, a toddler bed and dressers. A Pack-n-Play is at the ready in case they would ever get an infant. That hasn’t happened yet.
The Khamphanhs are one of just three culturally-diverse foster families in Nobles County, and the only Lao-speaking home in the foster program locally.
While they have fostered one Lao child in the past three years, they have also welcomed children of all backgrounds. The cultural differences matter not. Amy said some of the children have been awed to hear Daeng speak Lao while on a phone call, and the kids get to try Lao cuisine from time to time.
“All kids usually love sticky rice - they love egg rolls,” shared Amy.Adjustment period
Though the Khamphanhs say fostering children is a challenge, at the end of the day it’s worth it.
“You can see differences in children over time,” said Amy.
They have taken in kids who were abused in their own home, or they were living in a home where drugs were present.
“We didn’t realize there were so many kids that needed this until we started doing (foster care),” said Daeng.
“I don’t think the community realizes what children go through in our own backyard, in our own community,” added Amy. “There are so many kids in our own community that need help.”
Caring for those children, and giving them a stable and loving home, can be the greatest gift they’ve been given.
“Little breakthroughs, like when you can just tell a child is comfortable and secure - they tell you they love you,” that’s what brings joy to the Khamphanhs, said Amy. Once, one of her foster daughters told her she felt safe at the Khamphanh house and knew she wouldn’t get hurt there.
While there are those moments to remember forever, Amy said fostering has its challenges.
“These kids have dealt with trauma - different things we’re not used to,” she said. It was a concern, especially introducing their two children to some of the behavior they were told they could expect to see.
The Khamphanh kids, however, seem to take things in stride. Whenever new foster children arrive in the home, there’s the excitement of having new playmates and getting to know someone new.
The longer a foster child stays, the greater the likelihood that issues will arise - like sharing toys or sharing Amy and Daeng’s time.
Still, Amy said, she hopes their children learn love and compassion, empathy and serving by being foster siblings.
“Also with the kids, we’ve learned it’s important to give them their alone time - and alone time with us too,” she said. “We use respite because our family needs a break, too - to be just the four of us and rejuvenate ourselves.”Being a blessing
For Amy, who works 30 hours per week with the Private Industry Council in Worthington, and Daeng, who recently transitioned to the day shift at JBS, being foster parents offers an opportunity to show kids what a loving home and a loving family looks like.
“I just want us to be a blessing to kids who don’t have that,” Amy said.
So if that means leaving work early because a snowstorm is causing schools to close, Amy will do it. And if it means brushing a girl’s hair and painting their nails, Daeng will do that.
“I truly believe that it takes a village to raise a child - I believe that with our kids, too,” Amy said. “With foster children, it totally takes a village - social workers, teachers, the therapists at the Southwest Mental Health Center. We’ve learned so much from them.
“I think everyone working together in that child’s village is what makes it successful for the child,” she added.
“We just want kids to be happy, I guess, for their well being,” said Daeng.
The Khamphanhs said there’s always a need for foster homes, and a need for diversity in foster homes as well.
For them, it’s been a good choice.
“I see us doing it for a long time - as long as we’re able to,” Amy said.