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Mar 29, 2017 02:48PM

Fostering with fowl: Backyard chickens help to forge bonds in foster families


By Natalie Dal Pra
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Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
The Werner family children Jacob 11, left, Alyssa 10 and Luke 8 feed the six chickens and one rooster in the chicken coop at their rural Sherrard home.
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Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
Alyssa Werner 10 looks for any eggs that have been laid in the family chicken coop.
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Sometimes comfort can come from the most unlikely places.

The foster kids who walk through the doors of Andy and Tawnya Werner's Sherrard home are greeted not only by the couple and their four children, but by a lovable bunch of creatures with names including Caramel, Egyptian and Mr. Puff Puff.

Their fears often are soothed merely by the presence of the Werner's seven backyard chickens.

"When kids come into our home, they are always nervous and scared. They don't know us. When they arrive, we greet them, show them around and usually their welcome gravitates to showing them the chickens. Most kids have not been around chickens," says Tawnya Werner.

"The chickens get the kids' minds off of their current situation — or whatever has happened to make them land in our home — and their fear of their new life living with strangers."

Werner says the chickens are friendly creatures, and the kids often cuddle them as they would a stuffed animal.

Not only do the chickens bring comfort to the kids, but caring for the animals teaches them a sense of responsibility that they may have never experienced in their previous home lives.

"The kids have a lot of fun collecting the eggs daily. They usually collect them as one of their after-school chores. The water and food system that we have lasts several weeks, so the kids just let us know when they are running low," Werner says.

"With my husband's guidance, they help clean out the coop and place new straw down. When the weather is nice, the kids let the chickens out to 'free-range' during the day, and once the chickens come back to the coop in the evening, they shut the door to keep them safe."

The Werners have found that it can be easier for the kids to relate to the chickens rather than the adults while they are still learning to trust their foster parents.

"As time goes on, the kids learn how to care for something and how to be responsible for something, which is a life lesson that we all need to know. Sometimes the kids will open up to the chickens and tell them their troubles, which might take quite a while for the kids to open up to another human being," Werner says.

"As we help the children take care of the chickens, it builds trust. That opens the door for the children to know we are there for them and they can trust us in other areas of their lives, too."

The family plans to incubate eggs in the spring, as they have done in the past. Werner says that the experience of watching chicks hatch and grow has been a tool for discussing life values with the foster children.

"Depending on the age of the child, a conversation might sound like: 'Look how the chicken is eating! The chicken is eating healthy food so that it grows up big and strong. What kinds of foods will help you to grow up big and strong?'" Werner says.

Robert Stone, a foster care licensing representative for Lutheran Social Services, the agency that the Werners foster through, says foster parents are required to continue training, and keeping backyard chickens or a garden has been a fun way for families to bond, as well as learn.

"Foster children suffer from trauma, and a garden and a project with home poultry can help these children heal and cope. These kind of projects are nurturing and teach children responsibility," Stone says. "Hands-on projects help ground children and give children and foster parents a safe way to build healthy home relationships."

The Werners have owned chickens for the last four years. The family lives on two acres in Sherrard, where chickens are permitted. The Quad-Cities area only recently has begun to allow backyard chickens in certain cities. Moline passed an ordinance allowing them last year, and Davenport recently followed suit. Silvis and Rock Island also allow backyard chickens, and an ordinance for East Moline recently has passed as well, but there are stipulations each city must abide by.

Stone spoke to the city council in support of the Davenport ordinance. He says that details are still being sorted, but Davenport residents who are interested in owning chickens must first attend a class and submit an application, as well as a yearly permit fee.

For those who are interested in owning backyard chickens, the Werner family says the experience has been more than worth it.

"Taking care of chickens could sound like an unpleasant chore, but most of the kids really love having something to take care of," Werner says. "It's a great teaching opportunity to help the kids learn to be responsible for something and to teach them how to love and care. There's always lots of smiles and laughter when they're with the chickens."
Natalie Dal Pra is a regular Radish contributor.




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