Sissy Ann Tschernoscha and Daniel Olvera live in Carpinteria with their three daughters, Ellie Lou, 9, Izzy Grace, 4, and Coco Rose, 2. You can’t tell by looking at them, but this family’s origin story is deeply entwined in Santa Barbara County’s multifaceted network of resource family support.
“Resource family” is the term California uses to describe families who provide out-of-home care for children in foster care. While Ellie Lou is Sissy and Daniel’s biological daughter, Izzy and Coco are biological siblings who the couple came to parent through foster care and adoption.
Sissy, an artist, and Daniel, a chemist at Avantor (formerly Nusil), met during college. Daniel and Sissy both came from families with fluid definitions of family. Throughout their childhoods they both remember times when there were grandparents or cousins living with them, or seasons when they went and lived with other family members. They’re also from large families. Between the two, they have 22 aunts and uncles.
About five years into their relationship, still in their 20s, the couple decided that they would play a role in the many-sided network of families, organizations and government agencies that help to support children and their families. In 2003, they became volunteer-advocates at Cottage Hospital, and in their church, Family Baptist Church on Foothill Road.
“We had been connected to this for quite some time,” said Sissy recalling that in high school she travelled to Mexico to do volunteer missionary work in orphanages.
By 2009, they were in the final steps towards resource family certification when they became pregnant with Ellie. Five years later, when they were ready, they reentered the resource family certification process. Standard practice is that no child is placed with a family older than the biological child in the household. So, Sissy and Daniel explored Angels Foster Care of Santa Barbara.
Dedicated to working with the county’s foster care system to place infants and toddlers in safe homes, Angels is among few organizations that eliminates home jumping, allowing children to stay with one family from emergency placement through adoption. The couple was certified in 2015, and in October of that year, they received a call that Izzy Grace had just been born.
“When Izzy came, we thought she’d be with us for a week, but she was coming to us knowing that we’d be available to her forever,” said Sissy.
Because of some “complexities” involved, Izzy’s case was fast-tracked and by December, the family had begun the adoption process. By June, Sissy and Daniel had adopted Izzy. “The whole team wanted to complete the story as quickly as possible,” said Sissy, “it was in the best interest of the family and child.”
Two years later, on the Friday before the family left for a trip to Disneyland, Daniel said he’d been thinking about Izzy’s mom. The family prayed for her that night.
“We pray often for their mother. We look in the mirror and I’ll say, ‘look at those beautiful eye’s your momma gave you.’ We try and acknowledge and appreciate their story because as they get older and their story unfolds, they’ll have to learn forgiveness and we want that to be a loving process for them.”
That Sunday, as they unpacked in a hotel near Disney, they received a call that a baby had just been born, and it was fairly certain to be Izzy’s biological sister. In the morning, they rushed back to Santa Barbara County. “They handed us the baby, they didn’t ask questions, we didn’t ask questions,” said Sissy. “All we knew was there was a baby who needed love.”
California law didn’t allow for Coco to stay with the family though until their recertification was complete. However, a judge allowed for Coco to stay with another Carpinteria family, Dan and Leanne Patterson, who were certified. Sissy and Daniel, along with their daughters, would stay with the Patterson family for weeks until their recertification was granted. “Our family became fostered. We were taken in by another family,” said Sissy, “It was a wonderful experience to be able to lean into another family’s love.”
For Sissy and Daniel, who have now completed the adoption proceedings for Izzy and Coco, the idea that fostering is rescuing children is a misconception. “We feel like they’re enriching our lives. We feel it’s a gift. Some families are facing cancer; some families are facing mental illness, or generations of trauma… These families need support and it’s a blessing to be a part of that process. And parenting is a team effort. It’s not just parents. It’s doctors, therapists, social workers... You have to be humble and trust each team member is bringing their experience and expertise. It can be liberating too, so you don’t have to worry so much. Just focus on your job. Our job is loving.”
For information about foster care and adoption in Santa Barbara County, visit ourcountyourkids.org. An Adoption Awareness event will be held on Nov. 20 at 1 p.m. at the Santa Maria Juvenile Court House, 4285-B California Blvd, Santa Maria. Light appetizers and beverages will be available along with fun activities for children.
To learn more about Angels Foster Care, visit angelsfostercare.org.