Sonoma County foster mom writes book to help children cope with transitions
Keri Vellis doesn’t shy away from heartache. As an emergency foster parent for the County of Sonoma, she knows life comes with struggles and gut-wrenching circumstances.
Rather than avoid situations that often are complicated, even tragic, Vellis, 44, steps up to help make a difference.
With three biological children and three children adopted through the foster care system, ranging in age from 1½ to 16, Vellis and her husband, Ted, have been welcoming foster children into their Sonoma County home for nearly five years. (Because of safety concerns for the children placed in their care, the couple asked that their hometown not be identified.)
At last count, 10 kids have stayed with the family, most for a few days to a few months. To help ease the transition for displaced children, Vellis searched for a storybook that could gently address the topic. When she couldn’t find something suitable, she decided to write her own book for foster children and adoptive kids.
Although she pondered the idea for two years, Vellis wrote her 18-page picture book, “Sometimes ... A Story of Transition for Foster and Adopted Children,” while waiting to pick up her kids from school.
“It’s always been in the back of my head to write one,” she said. “I wrote it in one day in the carpool line, and I knew I had it.”
The book follows a timid foster child, holding closely to a Teddy bear, meeting with new caregivers and settling into a new home. It provides comfort and reassurance, explaining, “Sometimes kids can’t stay where they live, and for one reason or another you have to leave.”
It continues, “Sometimes you need to go live in another house ... until things get figured out.”
Vellis based her book on her own firsthand experiences working with foster children. Lively watercolor illustrations help tell the story, with local artist Jin Lehr capturing “every emotion, every niche,” Vellis said. Lehr, 25, was a foster child in Sonoma County.
Vellis is hopeful “Sometimes ...” will help ease the fear and uncertainty many foster children feel when transitioning from their homes. Self-published by Vellis in June with an initial run of 1,500 copies, “Sometimes ...” has been winning praise from children at Sonoma County schools and at Valley of the Moon Children’s Home, where Vellis has read her book, answered questions and listened to kids share stories about becoming foster children.
According to the state foster parent group, in January there were more than 53,000 children from newborns to age 17 living in child-welfare-supervised foster care in the state. In Sonoma County, between 50 to 75 are in need of a safe home each day. Vellis hopes law enforcement officials, social workers and foster parents will utilize her book as a resource to help children recognize they are safe and loved in their transitional homes.
After a career managing dental offices, Vellis pursued emergency foster parenting to make a difference for children.
“We’re only here once,” she said. “I wanted to do something to impact the world.”
As a full-time stay-at-home mother with an innate ability to juggle her kids’ multiple sports teams, after-school activities and homework, along with advocacy and appointments for services for foster kids, Vellis knows a phone call can change directions.
“With the drop of a hat, you can get a call,” she said. “You are on call for anything.”
On Christmas Eve 2015, Vellis got a call about a newborn needing a placement. She regrouped, brought the baby girl home and moved right along with her holiday plans.
Now 19 months old, that “beautiful little peanut” is the youngest member of the Vellis family, her adoption finalized in April.
Vellis credits the family’s two oldest children, Emily, 16, and Madilyn, 14, with being especially helpful with their two younger brothers, two younger sisters and the foster children placed with the family.
“They’re very mature, and wise beyond their years,” Vellis said of her teens. “They’ve learned a lot about human beings and compassion, and that people have struggles.”
She also is grateful to a supportive network of friends and relatives, including her mother-in-law, Dee Vellis, who lives close by and always lends a hand, even accompanying the family on annual trips to Disneyland.
Vellis said it’s rewarding working with foster children, especially as they find comfort in her home, which includes two cats and three dogs, one a sweet therapy dog named Opal, half Labrador and half Golden Retriever.
The children are in foster care because “they’re at risk,” Vellis said. “They’re not safe.”
She tries not to judge families or circumstances, instead putting her focus on caring for children in her placement. Her warm and ever-calm demeanor helps ease children from their first meeting.
“I’m here to provide a safe home. I feel very neutral (with birth parents) and don’t judge them or their struggles,” Vellis said. “When the kids are here, I understand they have biological parents, but when they’re in my home I treat them like my (own) kids.”
Hardest, she said, is when foster children leave the family. The goodbyes are tough for everyone.
“It’s crushing when they leave,” she said. “It’s sad, and a part of you is ripped.”
Often frightened, teary-eyed and confused by their circumstances when Vellis first meets them, the foster children she cares for are like the child in her book. She wrote a story both boys and girls can relate to, one that offers reassurance for a bright future.
“Sometimes ...” is the first book for both author and illustrator.
The California State Foster Parent Association has applauded the book as “both helpful and inspirational.”
Vellis has since written three other storybooks, one about abuse, two on issues of adoption. As with “Sometimes ...,” she’s hopeful each will resonate with children and help them through a tough time.
Plus, she remains a phone call away for another foster child to come into her home.
“There’s still such a need,” Vellis said, “and we have the room.”
“Sometimes ... A Story of Transition for Foster and Adopted Children” is available at Copperfield’s Books, aAmazon.com and kerivellis.com.
For more information on foster parenting, call 707-565-4274 or visit sonomafostercare.org.
Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at firstname.lastname@example.org.