SANDY — Being a foster parent is no piece of cake, but it’s a slice of life Naomi Martinsen simply can’t live without.
“I do like to be busy,” Martinsen said Thursday after being named the Salt Lake Valley Foster Mother of the Year. “When it’s quiet, I just start thinking of other things I should be doing.”
And she gets them done, said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker in announcing the award as a token of esteem to her and all of the 1,400 licensed foster care families in Utah who provide safe, loving, stable places for children whose lives have been turned upside down by abuse or neglect.
“Being that place and all the work that comes with it can be difficult, but that’s nothing compared to what the kids have been going through at home,” Martinsen said. “This is just something I can do to help them know there is a different way to be.”
Martinsen was kind of a different kid herself, said her parents, Cathy and Francois Pujol, between taking proud-parents photographs of their award-winning daughter.
“We can’t take any credit for this,” her father said, noting that they had never taken foster kids. “But I’ve always appreciated people who do.”
Ever since their daughter was old enough to answer the question of what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would say, “A mother and someone who helps children.”
The Pujols have been people who regularly help that someone who helps children: One Christmas, they bought 11 bicycles for foster children.
“Most are going to be temporary residents, but pretty quickly they become members of the family, no matter how long they stay,” Dan Martinsen said, adding that he was “reluctant, to say the least” when his wife first brought up the idea of becoming foster parents. He said Thursday he’s glad his seamless speeches against the idea didn’t hold any sway.
“It was the other way around,” he said. “It’s not all fun and games, but what is that’s worth anything that really matters?”
The Martinsens said if anyone is thinking about becoming a foster parent — “and there are a lot of people with a lot of room in their houses who just need to a find a little room in their hearts,” Naomi Martinsen said — there is a ready and able network of support available through other parents, the state Foster Care Foundation (www.utahfostercare.org), the Adoptive Families Association, and the state Division of Child and Family Services.
On any given day, there are more than 2,600 Utah children in foster care. Half are from the Salt Lake Valley.
About 1,200 are age 14 and older, which is a particularly tough age group for which to find foster families. Every year, about 200 teens “age out” of foster care. That’s a particularly troubling statistic to program managers, because those who never find a permanent placement are more likely to be homeless as adults. They also are much more likely to not find permanent employment, and they are less likely to further their education and more likely to be jailed than teens not in foster care.
“People think (becoming a foster parent) will somehow detract from their family,” Naomi Martinsen said. But the 40 or so foster kids she has had the past six years “have only extended my family and expanded our connection to life.”