Zachary and Samantha call him Dad.
The 10 children he and his wife, Julie, have fostered in the past three years refer to him as Bob or Dad.
Either way, Bob Smith relishes the role he has in their lives.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]
“The thing about fostering and being a dad or being a mom, you need to set values and instill into the child the good values, good morals. If you don’t do that, they are really not going to gain anything in life,” the 54-year-old Seymour resident said.
“It’s tough in life if you don’t have a base,” he said. “A lot of men can be fathers, but it takes a special person to be a dad. That’s the same as a mother. A lot of women can be a mother, but it takes a special person to be a mom.”
Three years ago, Bob and Julie ended their involvement with Boy Scouts, and Zachary and Samantha were out of the house and starting their own families.
That’s when the couple had a discussion.
“We looked at each other and go, ‘We have no hobbies,’” Bob said. “We said, ‘OK, let’s check into fostering kids,’ so that’s when we began the process.”
In 2017, they went through a background check, fingerprinting and nine classes at the Department of Child Services in Seymour to become licensed foster parents.
The first child they fostered was a boy from Guatemala. He was 3 at the time and was 5 when he returned to his mother.
“He spoke perfect English. He spoke better English than I did,” Bob said. “His mother spoke no English. He spoke no Spanish. He spoke no Chuj. Culture-wise, eating was his worst problem to get over, but he did love cheeseburgers and stuff like that, so he was good. He liked pizza. We got him eating a lot.”
When the case started to really mature, the Smiths began interacting with the boy’s mother more.
“Mom was very appreciative of what we were doing,” Bob said. “Actually, there at the end, she was at our house. After he went back to Mom, she came up to our house. We took her to Chicago to immigration to try to get things straightened out for her and (her son). We took her to the dentist because she had teeth rotting out.”
Still today, the couple keep in contact with the boy, and he calls them Mom and Dad.
While still fostering the boy, the Smiths were foster parents for their second child, a girl from Seymour. She was 4 months old at the time and stayed about 15 months until her grandmother gained custody.
“We’re still friends with her today, too,” Bob said.
“Every one, we’ve tried to be friends with, we’ve tried to help because we enjoy having the kids around,” he said. “We still like to have communication with them as long as they allow us to and as long as they are willing because we like to see them. We want the personal relationship with them, and it’s nice because we want them later on when they grow up to come back and say ‘Thank you’ and are appreciative of it.”
The Smiths then fostered two boys and twin girls.
Currently, they are fostering two brothers ages 5 and 6 and two sisters ages 7 months and 7 years. The boys have been at their house for a year and a half, and the girls have been there since January.
Each year, the Smiths go through 24 hours of training to remain licensed. They now do that through National Youth Advocate Program in Columbus.
“Through the process, I have a revolving door,” Bob said. “Probably five days a week, there’s somebody coming in and out of my door from DCS or NYAP. They just come in, they check on the welfare of the kids, they talk about it.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, though, that was done through Zoom calls.
“I had to be the schoolteacher, I had to be the principal, I had to be the mediator of the kids and it was tough,” Bob said of the kids doing schoolwork from home. “The pandemic was very tough on us, but we survived it.”
Now, they are back to face-to-face home visits.
The reasons vary on why children enter the foster program. Bob said the most common reasons are related to drugs or abuse.
The courts determine how long a child stays with a foster family, and they may be granted visits, including unsupervised, overnight and drop-ins, until the kids are allowed to go back home to their parents or a caretaker.
The ultimate goal is reconnection, Bob said.
“Two fully have gone through the program and they went back to their guardian,” he said of the children they have fostered.
Being a foster parent is rewarding because Bob said he gets to see a kid do something they would have never normally done. He and Julie like taking the kids to the children’s museum, zoos, baseball games and parks.
“We treat them just like our kids were treated,” Bob said. “That’s what they didn’t get, and that’s what I want them to have because my kids had it, and I want them to have it, too.”
Bob said his parents enjoy the foster kids as much as he and Julie do.
“We make it a family affair because we want it to be a family affair,” he said. “We want them to be in a family setting because a lot of times, they don’t get that at home. That’s another one of our goals. We make sure everybody is taken care of in the family.”
Their biological children help out, too. Zachary and his wife, Nadrina, and son, Jaxon, live in front of his parents’ house, while Samantha and her husband, Caleb, live in Columbus.
“They are a big help,” Bob said. “My daughter-in-law will text me and say, ‘Hey, bring the kids up. If you let the kids come up, I’ll watch them, and we’ll go play or do whatever.’”
Bob said he likes being a foster parent because he wants to see the children prosper and be happy.
Saying goodbye to the kids is tough, but it’s rewarding for Bob and Julie when they know they have made a difference in their life and can send them forward.
“We always tell them that we’re always there for them no matter what,” Julie said. “What we give them nobody can ever take away.”
For others considering being a foster parent, Bob said do it to make a difference, don’t do it for the money and don’t do it just because.
“Just do it because you want to and you’ve got a love for kids,” he said.
Bob said his mentors in life have been his stepfather, who raised him since he was 4, and Steve Stanfield and Harry Cherry at the Boys Club in Seymour. The example they provided helped him be the father and man he is today.
As far as fostering kids, Bob said he and Julie plan to continue.
“We will probably do it for a long time. I’m going to say probably until we retire, if not past that,” he said. “We have no thoughts of changing today or even stopping doing it. We do it for the kids, and we want the kids to have a difference.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Smith file” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Name: Bob Smith
Education: Seymour High School (1984); Nashville Auto Diesel College (1986); Ivy Tech Community College (2007); U.S. Department of Labor apprenticeship (2008)
Occupation: Maintenance supervisor at Aisin Drivetrain Inc.
Family: Wife, Julie Smith; son, Zachary (Nadrina) Smith; daughter, Samantha (Caleb) Barringer; grandson, Jaxon; 10 foster children in the past three years