When their children went to college, Dave and Darleen Titchenal knew they had more love to share and decided to become foster parents.

That was 1998 and they have no idea how many children have spent time with them at their home in Willow Springs, sometimes as little as a day, others a few weeks.

“Our hearts went out to these kids who didn’t have any stability and moved house to house,” Darleen said.

She saw an ad in The Union Democrat for training to become a foster parent and applied. They went through an extensive certification process through Child Protective Services that included training on CPR, first aid, behavior, discipline, and even how to spot the signs of human trafficking.

They also had to undergo a background check, home inspection and get friends to write them reference letters.

“As soon as you’re licensed, they have a home inspection and then right away they start sending kids,” Darleen said.

They still keep in touch with two girls who were brought to them about 13 years ago at ages 9 and 17 after being removed from their father’s home.

It was supposed to be a brief respite period for a few days, but the Titchenals ended up taking the girls in permanently while their mother in Pennsylvania went through steps to regain custody.

Darleen said the youngest would ask her to accompany her on school trips and if she could refer to her as her mom.

“She just wanted a mom,” Darleen said, adding that the girl still refers to her and Dave as “Mama Bear” and “Papa Bear.”

The girls stayed with the Titchenals for a year before being reunited with their biological mother. They taught the oldest how to drive and helped her get into continuation school.

“Knowing I’ve made a positive impact on someone, even in a little way, that’s my reward,” she said.

The Titchenals say there are also many challenges to being a foster parent.

Sometimes they see things that break their heart or anger them, such as a 14-year-old boy who was sent to them after being dropped off at CPS by a family member who simply didn’t want to take care of him anymore.

That same boy came to stay with them from time to time, but later got into drugs despite their efforts.

“All these kids want is to be loved,” Darleen said. “You just keep trying to help them.”

The Titchenals have also volunteered at the county’s children shelter in East Sonora for the past 12-plus years, as well as a transitional home for foster youth who turn 18 and age out of the system.

Darleen said she’s witnessed a change in the behavior of children at the shelter over the years, such as doing drugs at a younger age than when she first started.

“It’s not the system’s or social worker’s fault, it’s the parents’ fault for not keeping on top of their kids,” she said. “A lot of behavior is learned.”

Dave said one of the most difficult aspects of being a foster parent to him is not tracking down parents who have abused or neglected their kids that come under his care.

Reunifying the child with his or her biological family is the system’s ultimate goal, but Dave doesn’t believe that necessarily should always be the case if it’s a bad situation for the child.

While foster parents receive some money from the county, Dave said it almost always results in them spending more on the children than they receive from the government. He believes people should be required to speak with at least three sets of foster parents before becoming one.

Dave, who didn’t have any children before he met Darleen, said the challenges of being a foster parent are worth it for him when he gets to share special moments like helping a kid catch their first fish.

“For me, I think it’s that I saw a problem and tried to do something instead of ignore it,” he said about what he gets from being a foster parent. “I didn’t go through life with blinders on.”

The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors recently approved a resolution proclaiming May as foster care month.

Rebecca Espino, deputy director of Tuolumne County Social Services, said there were more than 100 children in foster care in Tuolumne County at the start of May, though that number fluctuates.

There are currently 72 licensed foster homes in the county, though Espino said the number has been as low as 28 not long ago. A state law passed in 2017 that provides more resources for training foster parents has helped increase the number, she said.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.