One Moorpark mom can lay claim to having helped improve the lives of 36 children through her work as a foster mother, an effort undertaken with her husband, Erik. Now, she is utilizing her experience to assist foster parents in the county, and encouraging others to take up the mantle, too.

Liz Thiele began work as a foster parent in 2010, but says that her original inspiration came from a patient she treated as an optician 25 years ago. A little girl with “Coke-bottle-thick glasses” entered her office. During the examination, Thiele asked the girl if she had plans for the day.

“She told me she was going to go to the zoo. I said, ‘Oh, you’re going to go to the zoo with your mom?’ and she said she didn’t have a mommy or daddy,” Thiele said.

After the appointment, Thiele learned that finding adoptive parents for the girl had been difficult because of her disabilities. One month later, with the girl still on her mind, Thiele learned that the girl’s caregiver herself had adopted her, when no one else would. That interaction planted the seed, says Thiele.

“When my biological children were older and got engaged at the Sarah’s House ministry, we knew it was time,” said Thiele. Now, Liz and Erik have four adopted children — a baby with “extreme special needs,” two 2-and-a-half-year-olds and one 5-year-old — and are currently fostering a teenager as well.

Liz is using her experience to help others foster children as well.

In 2016, Channel Island Social Services, with funding from Ventura County Community College District in coordination with Foster VC Kids, launched a program dubbed Peer Partner Educators for experienced foster care parents to create a web of support in the form of in-person mentoring, resource referrals and group support meetings for licensed foster parents in the county.

Thiele became a Peer Partner Educator and has used her experience to help new foster families overcome the same issues she and her husband faced starting out, and to assist families with whatever may arise, directing them to the many tools offered in Ventura County for resource foster families.

“I know what I needed over these seven years, what I didn’t get and what the difference would have made in some of those instances,” said Thiele. “I was asked by Foster VC Kids to consider being a Peer Partner Educator and I jumped at the chance. I’m all about meeting the need and there are so many holes.”

There are 1,183 children living in Ventura County in need of a home, according to Foster VC Kids Resource Family and Community Development Coordinator Jaci Johnson; and since the beginning of 2017, new obstacles have arisen that have made it tricky to place the children into homes.

On Jan. 1, 2017, AB 403, also known as Continuum of Care Reform, became the law of the land, giving the right to California foster children to remain in their school and neighborhood of origin, and not to have to be separated from siblings. Johnson says that many of Ventura County’s foster homes are in East County, but 85 percent of the children in the system come from Oxnard and Ventura. In other words, foster families on the West Side are in high demand.

“We do have a lot of great homes in East County,” said Johnson, “but it’s hard to find a family that is going to want to drive to Oxnard High from Simi every day, and back. That’s why we’re really recruiting in our target area.”

Johnson said that people like Thiele and other Peer Partner Educators are a great resource for new foster families.

“They show support for the other foster families, walk them through maybe some challenging times, maybe rejoice in the happy times and help them by making suggestions for resources,” said Johnson. “It all ties into providing that quality care our foster children and the child welfare system deserve.”

Thiele said that there are many resources for families in Ventura County that other areas do not have, including taxi services for kids to get to school, if needed. Thiele’s message to families considering becoming a resource foster family in light of possible challenges is simply to “Go for it.”

“Just do it,” Thiele said. “If you have that seed in your heart, and that little bit inside of you, don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you. Move forward because the blessings outweigh everything else.”

For more information, visit www.fostervckids.org.