Honoring Permanency: The Fritz Family
By Rebecca Nallon, Program Technical Assistant
Each summer, the Pennsylvania Permanency Conference recognizes permanent families who inspire hope, challenge barriers, and share stories of commitment and love. Helen and Andy Fritz are one of the amazing families honored at the 2021 conference. The couple was nominated by Katie Kalp of Children’s Home of York, who noted that Helen and Andy support the best interests of each child by remaining open to safe and healthy birth family connections.
Five years ago, Helen was a single mother to her daughter Leah when she decided to override her nervousness and act on her interest in becoming a foster parent. She found a spark of inspiration while waiting for an appointment. Helen explained, “I read an article in a magazine about a woman who became a foster mom. She said, ‘Why is my need to not feel hurt—me, an adult, with a support network and people who love me—more important than a child’s need to be loved and cared for at the mostvulnerable time in their life?’ My mind and heart clicked and that’s when I started my foster journey.”
Two years ago, Helen and Andy married and together they have been exemplary parents. Their home is a source of comfort and healing for their five daughters. They honor their role by nurturing not only the children but also the birth families they have met along the way. When Helen shared her idea to host a foster alumni reunion at Christmastime to reconnect with the children and their families, Andy readily agreed, even cooking the feast himself.
Helen reflected on the importance of building a relationship with every child’s birth family, saying, “Communication usually begins with reassuring the parents that their children are okay, sending pictures and letting them know what their kids have been up to (if appropriate, given their situations), which builds trust.” She also noted, “They are grateful that their children are loved, and are happy to hear about gymnastics classes, swimming, and horse riding. Through listening to their stories, sharing their heartache, and encouraging them, we develop a relationship.” This has allowed the Fritzes to maintain connections with previous foster children over the years, even to this day.
One such child was a two-year-old girl, Piper, who, along with her biological family, strongly bonded with the Fritzes during her time in care. Later, when her parents were unable to continue raising her, they approached Helen to provide permanency for Piper. Helen shared how Piper’s mother truly felt she was a part of the family, where she and her daughter belong. The Fritzes obtained permanent legal custodianship, and have since adopted Piper, now age six.
Helen and Andy continue to care and seek permanency for the children who enter their lives and home. This past year, they also finalized adoptions for Heaven, age nine, and Raelynn, age eight. The Fritzes support Heaven’s ongoing connection with her sister, who is placed in another home, through regular visits and plans for a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement, or PACA. They also helped Heaven’s birth mother find professional help to work through the struggles she has faced. While parental visits aren’t possible, Helen and Andy keep in touch by sending photographs and updates of Heaven’s progress. The couple hopes to renew Heaven’s relationship with her birth mother when she is older.
They have also made efforts to honor Raelynn’s birth family. Raelynn was very close to her grandmother, “Nanny,” who recently passed away. Helen and Andy had a locket made for her with her nanny’s picture and a chain long enough so that the necklace can sit right over her heart. Raelynn also continues visits with her other grandmother with Helen and Andy’s support.
Helen and Andy highly deserve the praise and recognition they received for their adoption and permanency efforts over the years. Their daily commitment is what makes the world a better place one family at a time.
Rebecca Nallon is a SWAN program technical assistant based in northeastern Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the SWAN prime contractor, Rebecca supervised and provided direct foster care and domestic adoption services, including work with the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children, out-of-state contracting, legal risk placements, and a continuum of permanency services from pre-placement through adoption finalization and post-adoption services. She also has experience coordinating and providing community mental health services to children and youth.