STANFORD — When Dan and Candy Tribuzio first met their daughter, Bailey, and their son, Cody, it wasn't under the best of circumstances.
These days, Bailey enjoys going to church and playing princess, while Cody prefers to don a cowboy hat and carry a pair of plastic six-shooters.
They both smile easily and once they start talking, it can be hard to get them to stop.
But about two years ago, their lives looked very different as foster children who had been removed from a neglectful home.
"The mom was in a bad spot — she didn't have a home," Candy said. "… It was just not a good environment for the kids."
As foster parents, the Tribuzios accepted the 10-month-old boy and 2-year-old girl into their home. In November, they officially adopted them as their own.
As three-year veterans of the local foster-parent program, the Stanford couple have cared for eight different children.
But there's a problem: In Lincoln County, there aren't enough people like Dan and Candy Tribuzio.
"We're always in need of foster families," said Buford Edwards, family services office supervisor for the Lincoln County Department for Community-Based Services. "We never really have enough to go around."
When children are removed from a home because of abuse or neglect, they have to go somewhere. They may be able to stay with a relative, but when that's not an option, they often wind up in a foster home.
If the local DCBS office can, it wants to place children in local foster homes, so they can still go to the same school and not have to learn the dynamics of a new community.
"It's hard enough when a child has to be removed from their home," Edwards said. "To lessen (that stress) as much as possible is why we try to keep them as close to home as possible."
Kristin Breeden, a Lincoln County foster parent social worker who works with the Tribuzios, said as of March 1, Lincoln County had 47 children in out-of-home care.
The county is currently 15 foster homes short of providing local homes for all of them, she said.
Without those homes available, kids get moved out of the county. Edwards said he just recently placed four children in a Laurel County foster home and another child in a Garrard County foster home.
He estimated about 50 percent of children who need a foster home in Lincoln County get to stay inside the county.
"We just never have enough families," he said. "If we had 20 (new) foster families, that may put a dent in the need."
Statewide, there are about 7,000 children living in out-of-home care, Breeden said. About 75 percent of those children are eventually able to return home to their birth parents or relatives who can care for them.
The Tribuzios, who have two biological children — William, 14, and Nick, 12 — signed up as a "foster-to-adopt" home, meaning they were willing to consider adopting the children they cared for.
"We had some friends that were foster parents. They encouraged us to do it, and we did it," Candy said. "Three years later, we've adopted two kids. We've had a couple other friends do foster parenting too, but they still need more people."
Before people become foster parents, they have to go through a training program that helps them understand what it will be like and provides them with a sense of if foster parenting is right for them.
"The classes prepared you pretty well for what to expect," Candy said. "They tell you it's going to be good for the first day or so and then reality is going to sink in. … They told you what to expect and how to handle it and you always have your worker that you can call."
Dan said one of the hardest things about becoming a foster parent for him has been trying to avoid getting emotionally attached to the children he cares for.
One six-week-old infant the Tribuzios cared for was an especially difficult goodbye for Dan.
"We didn't even have (the baby) but two or three weeks, but you just kind of get emotionally attached. You try to keep your guard up a little bit, but it's hard," he said. "We understand what the goal is, but when you have a newborn … it's hard not to get attached when you're up with them all night long, changing diapers and feeding them and everything else just like they were your own."
But despite having to say goodbye, Dan said being a foster parent can be especially rewarding when he gets to observe parents turn their lives around so they can get their kids back.
"That's what we're here for is to help them. Our desire is not to take anybody's kid and keep them but to help get the children returned back to their parents," he said. "That's what I would want somebody to do — if our kids were to be taken away, I would want somebody to work with us to help us get our boys back."
Candy said in the case of their two adopted children, it was difficult to bond at first because there was the potential that the children would be returned to a family member.
But once it was clear there was no way that was happening, "then we were able to settle in and really get that bond," she said. "But you never want to do that until you know for sure."
With the Tribuzios' permission, Bailey and Cody's biological grandmother still pays them visits and brings gifts from time to time, especially around the holidays and birthdays.
Candy said there is a supportive bond that can form between foster families and biological families. It's one aspect of foster parenting she hadn't anticipated.
"We just always thought we would be so mad at these people that did these things to these kids, but you realize that some of them, they're just young and they need help," she said. "So you do kind of bond with their families too, a little bit."
Dan said for him and Candy, their religion is what motivates them in part to be foster parents.
"We're able to take kids that … were not normally able to go to church or anything like that and then we can raise them up in a Christian home and teach them about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," he said. "That's the first and foremost thing that they need to know about."
Candy said the best advice she can give to anyone considering becoming a foster parent is to "dive right in."
"Don't be afraid to do it," she said. "It's very rewarding."
FOSTER INFO AVAILABLE
A free informational meeting for prospective foster and adoptive parents is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. April 9 at 1714 Perryville Road, Suite 550, in Danville. Anyone interested may attend and learn about the training criteria and program.
SO YOU KNOW
Foster parents can be married or single and must meet the following requirements:
• must be at least 21 years old;
• must be financially stable and have income sufficient to meet the family's needs;
• must be able to provide a safe, secure and health home for a child;
• must be in good physical and mental health;
• must meet the requirements for housing safety and space; and
• must complete 30 hours of the pre-service preparation classes and all paperwork.
The training, evaluation and approval process normally takes about four to six months. The amount of time until foster parents are assigned a child depends on how flexible they are about which type of child they are willing to parent.
The training program is free. The only potential cost associated with the training is the cost of a required physical.