Making Connections in Foster Care: Marci and Tatiana

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POLK COUNTY — Marci and Tatiana met just a few months ago, but already share a special connection. Sometimes the stars just align for two people to meet, and leave an impact on one another.

Their story begins when Tatiana’s parents gave her up to an orphanage in Russia. When Tatiana was five-years-old, parents in the U.S. adopted her and her younger sister — but Tatiana remembers her adoption as being “part of the package deal.” That her adoptive parents didn’t really want her. This started her journey into foster care.

At just 17-years-old, Tatiana has been in 23 different homes. She suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder, and given her experience in foster care so far, has significant trust issues. But hopefully that is changing… this April, Marci walked into her life as her new case worker.

“Tatiana is just so amazing. She doesn’t even realize how amazing she is yet,” says Marci.

Marci Myers-Olivera is a teen case worker with the Department of Human Services (DHS), serving Polk County. As soon as she was assigned Tatiana’s case, she knew she was given a special opportunity to help.

“I can’t even wrap my brain around what it must feel like for her at times,” she says. “She has no family in the U.S. other than her sister, whom she’s not allowed to see. I hope I can be a connection for her, and someone she can trust.”

Marci lives under the principle that there is no cap on how much love there is to give. Her life and work are a testament to this notion.

Fifteen years ago, Marci became a foster parent. Her drive to foster stems from her parents, who she says set a strong foundation in her life for giving, as they were always generous with taking care of others. Today, Marci is mom to seven children: three biological, one step, one adopted and two with whom she has guardianship.

“It’s busy and let me tell you, when I had four kids in car seats it was definitely a bit crazy, but I have a lot of love to share… why not share it?” she says.

Her career as a DHS case worker grew from her experience as a foster parent.

“I had a pretty amazing case worker when I was fostering that took me under her wing,” she says. “She told me about the work she does, and I started volunteering at the agency. I shadowed a bunch of people and decided this is what I wanted to do.”

Marci just celebrated four years on the job.

“I love the work that I get to do with people. Being part of somebody’s transformation, and watching it happen is one of the most amazing things in the world. That’s what keeps me going,” she says. 

Marci and Tatiana, on one of their walks.

And serving as Tatiana’s case worker, Marci gets a firsthand experience in watching an amazing young woman grow. Marci says it’s a privilege watching Tatiana embrace her natural talents, such as art. As her case worker, Marci’s job is to be a supportive person in Tatiana’s life — sometimes that manifests in just going for walks together and talking. Hiking has been one of their favorite activities to do together.

“My hope for Tatiana is that she really embraces this foster family she’s living with right now, because they love her to death and won’t give up on her,” says Marci. “And I know she is laser focused on graduating from high school and earning that diploma. I have no doubt in my mind she will do that.”

“Walking across that stage with my diploma will feel rewarding… I want to feel that,” says Tatiana.

Given her experience in foster care, Tatiana is uniquely positioned to offer advice on how best the State can support foster children. She recently sat down with Governor Brown and shared her thoughts.

“We need more case workers, that would help a lot…. That way we could spend more time with our case worker,” says Tatiana. “We need more staff to support us kids.”

DHS just recently made offers to 235 new case workers, and is continuing to grow its workforce. Additionally, a key piece of legislation passed this session that will help address the foster care system in Oregon. Senate Bill 1 creates a statewide System of Care advisory council to provide more oversight and accountability to Oregon’s system for youth with complex needs. The advisory council will focus on system-wide changes that better support children and youth, including identifying the need for — and recruiting — more caseworkers.

About Author

Berri Leslie is the Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Kate Brown. In that role Berri oversees the Governor’s policy advisors. She has extensive management and policy experience with Oregon’s state agencies. Berri is also a product of Oregon’s public schools having received degrees from both the University of Oregon and Portland State University.

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