Barnum husband and wife named Minnesota’s ‘Foster Parents of the Year’Over the past 21 years, Mark and Kim Hassett have worked with close to 60 children, in addition to raising their own two sons, Aaron and Alex, Their dedication has earned them two awards: Region 3 and Minnesota “Foster Parents of the Year.”
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
One of the most valuable lessons Kim Hassett has learned over the past 20 years of providing foster care is to stay up late at night.
Not because she needs to catch someone misbehaving. Rather, because teenage boys are more inclined to talk – or text – at that time of night.
“That’s when most of my boys will talk,” Kim said, adding that she and her husband, Mark, always foster teenage boys. “I have a couple who want to text almost all night about issues. So, sometimes texting is a good thing. It’s non-confronting for them, less threatening. They can say what they want more easily.”
Yes, Kim frequently exchanges text messages with boys while they’re downstairs and she’s upstairs, if that’s what it takes. However, sometimes she has to draw the line.
“Except when they text me from downstairs: ‘Do we have Doritos? Is supper ready?’” she said, laughing. “Then it’s gone too far.”
Right now, Kim and Mark have four teenage boys living in their Barnum home, plus their youngest son, who is 20 and going to college. Over the past 21 years, the Hassetts have worked with close to 60 children, in addition to raising their own two sons, Aaron and Alex. It’s been a rewarding experience, something Mark refers to more than once during the interview as a “calling.”
Their dedication has earned them two awards: Region 3 and Minnesota “Foster Parents of the Year.”
Kim said they first started doing respite care – staying with foster kids while the parents or entire biological family went out for an evening or away for a weekend – after the birth of their oldest son.
“I remember thinking ‘I don’t have a clue how to raise this child,’” Kim said. “We knew people who did foster care [including Mark’s parents and aunt and uncle] and they always had such good parenting skills. I thought, ‘Oh, why don’t we get into foster care and educate ourselves and figure out how to raise this child. I ate up all the material, we would go to all the workshops and do everything we could do to learn more. Now my oldest is 26.”
She is quick to point out that the goal is not to replace a child’s biological parents. The parents, hopefully, will remain in the child’s life. Sometimes the kids need space to work on issues, other times parents need that space. The reasons for placing a child in foster care can be as varied as the children themselves.
Other people have noticed how well they work with the kids.
“When you have a youth who really needs structure, yet also needs guidance and support, staying with and working with their spiritual traditions, Mark and Kim are very good,” said Carlton County Social Worker Ed Barkos, who nominated the Hassetts for the foster parents award. “They work very well with Native American boys, who will often participate in powwows and sweats, and Mark and Kim are very supportive of that. They treat the boys as if they are their own children, really bond with them and make a strong parental connection.”
It goes way beyond simply being good with kids. What the Hassetts do is called treatment foster care, although they both dislike the term “foster care.”
“Sometimes a child has exhibited a behavior that would bring him further down the road to our house,” Mark said. “I think we’re used sometimes as a last step before a boy is sent to a residential [treatment] setting; other times we are the first stop after they’ve been there.”
In his nomination letter, Barkos praised the Hassetts level of involvement with PATH MN – a therapeutic foster care and family based services group – and noted they have more than 600 hours of education regarding helping youth with special needs. This education program includes topics such as SED/mental health, conduct disorder, chemical abuse, behavior and crisis management, cultural competency and more.
“Mark and Kim are highly effective in helping teen boys with a variety of Severe Emotional Disturbance and delinquency issues,” Barkos wrote. “When a teenage boy might be a difficult placement, the first family that comes to mind is the Hassetts. They give an excellent balance of support, supervision, and accountability to their youth. They both nurture the boys equally in ways they have usually never experienced before and they are very effective at teaching youth necessary life skills, such as independent living, making good choices, social skills.”
Mark and Kim are quick to insist they don’t work alone. They have the support of an entire treatment team, as well as the cooperation of the teenagers they work with. The team may include immediate and extended members of a teen’s biological family, a county social worker, a PATH social worker, possibly a guardian ad litem and sometimes the young man himself.
“We all sit together and establish goals, and we review progress on those every three months,” Mark explained. “A goal might be to remain off chemicals, another might be to gain independent living skills, or even to get a job.”
Kids with truancy issues might set the simple goal of attending school every day and maintaining appropriate behaviors. Others may work toward gaining driving privileges.
Don’t get the wrong impression, though. The Hassetts aren’t hanging checklists and charts inside the front door listing desired and undesired behaviors. Visitors and residents are greeted by shoes and boots – lots of them – at the front door, along with numerous hunting trophies (rescued rather than shot by Mark). All in all, it’s a fairly typical, albeit very nice, northern Minnesota home.
During the interview, one young man wandered upstairs, wondering when supper was coming and said he was starving. Kim had two 9 by 13-inch pans filled with chicken and biscuits cooking in the oven.
Teenage boys eat a lot.
Even while they’re just being a normal family, however, Mark and Kim are teaching lessons, lessons they themselves aren’t
always aware of.
“Like I always said, if they take a piece of something when they leave here, even role modeling,” Kim said, “how a husband treats a wife, how we treat our children or them…”
“I’m still working on that by the way,” he said, referring to the husband-and-wife part. “It’s an ongoing thing.”
Kim laughed, too, and then continued.
“They watch,” she said. “They watch a lot. You try to role model.”
“Even if we have our differences – and there are – on what should happen, there’s support for one another,” Mark said. “In an appropriate manner, you can express your differences. You can basically say anything as long as it’s said in an appropriate way.”
Talking to them, Mark and Kim seem well suited for each other and their chosen role as foster parents. They gently step in and finish the other’s sentence, sometimes when one is searching for the right word. They laugh a lot. Kim has a ready smile. Mark has a crew cut and he has both a military and correctional background, both which taught him valuable skills dealing with problem behaviors.
Kim loves having a house full of kids, as does Mark.
“It’s not for everybody, but it’s for us,” she said. “Our front door is like an open door, but that’s how I like it.”
Even during the rough spots – and there are a few – they have no regrets.
“There are nights we’ve gone to bed and start laughing about stuff, because what else can you do?” Kim added.
On Monday, March 21, Mark and Kim were recognized by the Minnesota Social Services Association (MSSA) as Foster Parents of the Year in Minnesota. Previously, in October, the Hassetts were selected for the Region 3 MSSA Child Foster Care Award.
“We’re lucky and blessed to have such a quality foster home in our county,” said Carlton County Commissioner Tom Proulx, praising how the Hassets make the kids a part of their home and remarking on how their efforts affect the county as a whole.
“When we can keep kids in the county they’re from rather than send them away to institutions, when we can work with families and use local resources, it’s cheaper and I think it’s a better result. They continue to be a part of the community.”
Again, Mark and Kim are quick to share the praise.
“We couldn’t do this without the team we work with, plus our own extended families who share holidays and are involved with all our lives,” Kim said. “And the schools are great, the biological families [of the boys], the social worker, the PATH worker.”
The real reward, however, is watching the boys they bring into their home grow up into good men, good husbands and/or fathers, productive citizens.
“I look at the young man who comes into our house and the time we have to spend with that individual,” said Mark, explaining that they’ve had boys who stayed a few months and others who stayed for years. “I try to look at him when he leaves, see what kind of difference we’ve made in his life. When they go out and leave our home, that they can avoid some of the pitfalls, some of the behaviors that they had. I think with the team concept – the way we’re all involved – that’s a strong dynamic. We want him to have the best tools we can give him to integrate into society.
“All you can do is plant the seed.”