The Winkles’ were in the process of finalizing their certification to foster a child when the pandemic hit. Their process paused and the family didn’t hear anything from their agency for months. A recent family photo with their five biological children courtesy of Gena Winkles.

Gena Winkles and her husband, Casey, wanted to adopt for years. 

The Lincoln-based couple started the process in August 2019. Gena said she felt like God was finally leading their family to adopt a child in Lincoln. They took classes, finished the paperwork and did everything necessary to add to their family.

Then, the pandemic hit.

“We had turned in all of our paperwork, which was an exhausting amount of paperwork… fully prepared to get a kid within the next week or two… And then we just never heard anything,” Gena said.

The Winkles started training courses at Christian Heritage in August. Christian Heritage is a foster agency based in Lincoln, Kearney and Omaha. It offers training, licensing and support to help parents, the biological children and the foster children through the process and adjustment of adding members to their family. The Winkles attended hours of classes, filled out countless forms on their medical and personal history and prepared their home to receive a child. With five children of their own, four girls and one boy, the Winkles were excited to start the fostering-to-adopt process. They are looking to adopt a child about the same age or younger than their youngest who is 9.  

“I’m excited for that moment for not just myself but for all the kids to have that moment of, yes, that’s my sister or my brother,” Gena said.

Casey was adopted as a child. Now, as a couple, they felt guided to adopt within the United States. An open adoption allows the birth parents to know and have contact with the adoptive family. In Casey’s experience, he found it to be a very healing process and that it took away a lot of anxiety he had about the unknown in his life. 

Gena said the Lord softened their hearts, and they saw fostering to adopt could actually be beneficial and less intimidating than they thought.

When COVID-19 hit Nebraska, all communication paused. Gena sent emails periodically to Christian Heritage asking for updates but only got radio silence.

“At that point, we really thought like, ‘I think this is not gonna happen,’” Gena said. “So, I kind of just thought, ‘well maybe they’ve just decided that we’re not worth the work and effort. Maybe they’ve had enough families come forward with fewer children that had, you know, had better options.’”

Spring and summer passed and the Winkles’ children went back to school. One day in August, Gena got a call about their medical paperwork expiring soon. They wanted to rush it through so the Winkles wouldn’t have to do the process all over again. Gena said it was out of the blue because she hadn’t heard anything from them in at least five months.

A foster care supervisor came over and had a three-hour conversation with Gena. Afterward, the Winkles’ paperwork was expedited. Three days later they were officially certified to be foster parents.

When they received that news, the Winkles’ were in the middle of remodeling parts of their house.

“The house is pretty disheveled right now. The foster care specialist said for us to just contact her when we feel like we’re ready. And then they’ll reactivate because right now we are certified but put on hold due to construction,” Gena said.

The Winkles hope to be finished with construction and be able to become active foster care parents by the end of 2020.

With the holiday season coming, it may take a while for the Winkles to be placed with a child. The foster care system avoids removing children from their homes and placing them in new environments during the holidays as it can be traumatizing. Instead, they do more kinship placements where the child has a previous connection to their caregiver so they are not walking into a complete stranger’s home.

Gena said she realizes this experience is going to affect her whole family.

“I think for our family we’ve had a lot of privilege and not a lot of conflict or a lot of suffering,” she said. “So, I feel like we’re a little out of perspective, at times, as far as just about the evils in this world,”

The Winkles continue to prepare to open their home and hope to adopt soon.

Kelsey Hans, a caseworker from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), said the pandemic is a time of risk for everyone. Hans feels that fostering is such a high priority and need right now. It is important to do what is in the best interest of the kids Hans said, and for the children to have stability in their lives.

“It’s one of those scary investments where you know there’s going to be hurt,” Gena said. “So my hope is that we grow a lot closer to the Lord as we have to rely on him to do things in the heart.”