The Lopez family

Colorado Springs residents Eric and Ashlette Lopez have adopted seven children they were foster parents for, and they continue to provide foster and respite care for other kids in the child welfare system.

A Colorado Springs couple who adopted seven children they were fostering will be honored Monday for their dedicated work in the field, one of five families statewide being recognized this year during November’s National Adoption Month.

“Foster-care adoption is hard, and when someone says you guys are doing a great job, it means a lot,” said Ashlette Lopez, who spent two years of her childhood in foster care.

She uses that experience to help carve out a better life for the children who enter her home because of abuse or neglect by their parents or guardians.

“In our home, foster care is family,” Lopez said, “and with love and consistency, the kids thrive.”

Foster care isn’t meant to necessarily lead to adoption.

“The advice I always give is you don’t go into foster care to adopt; these kiddos are coming from broken homes, and the first thing foster care is aimed to do is reunite those families,” Lopez said.

That doesn’t always happen.

Since January, 473 Colorado children in foster care have been adopted, according to the state Department of Human Services. Currently, 436 foster kids statewide are waiting for adoption, the state agency reports.

This year in El Paso County, 76 adoptions have been completed, and the Department of Human Services is actively searching for adoptive families for 26 local children, said spokeswoman Kristina Iodice.

Many children and youths up to age 21 get adopted by their foster parents, others by new families. In addition to the state child welfare program, private firms also conduct adoption services.

That the Lopezes have undertaken both foster care and adoption is one of the reasons they were selected for statewide recognition, said Adrienne Baxter, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services.

The couple also has adopted groups of siblings — which some adoptive parents are not willing to do, she said.

“They’ve been great advocates for foster care and adoption,” Baxter said. “A lot of people in the community know who they are.”

Ashlette Lopez, who is legally blind, and Eric Lopez, who is deaf, were high school sweethearts and married 15 years ago. As special-education teachers, the couple became foster parents when a cousin needed help.

“We thought, ‘We got this. We know what we’re doing,’” Ashlette said. As it turns out, “We knew nothing about trauma and attachment,” she said.

Trying to figure out “who the child is” in terms of personality and behavior — and how to deal with trauma the child has experienced — are the most challenging aspects of the work, Eric said.

Foster care has improved from a typical scenario of children being ignored and viewed as an income source to homes with a family focus and meeting each child’s needs, Ashlette said.

She remembers clearly at age 5, “the horror of being put in a police car, and the social worker telling us it would be OK.”

She spent a few weeks in a group facility, where her brothers also were taken, before she was sent to a foster home.

“I’d only see my brothers for an hour a day, and it was super scary to go to sleep in a bunkbed in a stark, sterile place,” Lopez said of the group setting. “I like to think we don’t do that as often or not at all.”

Lopez testified at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. in 2016 about the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, which took effect Oct. 1, creating new foster home models that include parents who are trained to help traumatized or disabled children.

In addition to the seven adoptions, the Lopezes have fostered 30 kids over the past decade.

The best part, Eric said, is being their dad.

“I’m the fun dad — I do activities and sports-related stuff,” he said. “I just love being there for the kids, and I try to support them as much as I can.”

Many foster children don’t have a father figure in their lives, Ashlette said.

“He’s fun and consistent with his love,” she said of her husband. 

The family enjoys playing and watching sports, and the couple teach their children that having a disability doesn't need to stop anyone from living life to the fullest.

With up to 12 kids in their home at times through fostering, adopting and offering respite care, life with the Lopezes is “a fun, crazy loud,” Eric said.

Theirs is the house on the block where children of friends and neighbors tend to congregate, the couple says. 

“We’re big on letting kids and our friends know when they have a problem, we can talk about it and love on them,” Ashlette said.

Support from friends and congregants at Fellowship of the Rockies, where Eric works, has been instrumental in helping them orchestrate the workings of the busy household.

“If you don’t have any type of support, it will be a struggle,” Eric said. “Sometimes just providing a simple thing like a dinner is a blessing.”

The El Paso County commissioners will issue a proclamation about the local observance of National Adoption Month at the Nov. 16 meeting.

“Adoptive families give an incredible gift to children,” said Stacie Kwitek-Russell, executive director of El Paso County Human Services. "

They make a choice to grow their family, positively impacting the lives of children with love, support and stability for a lifetime.”

The need in the community for adoptive families is persistent, she said, and there’s “a greater ongoing need for foster families.”

Adoptive and foster parents must be at least 21 years old. There are no limitations based on income, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

For more information, go to https://humanservices.elpasoco.com and click on adoption or foster care.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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