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100 children and counting, Cottage Grove couple awarded for 35 years of foster parenting

The Elliott's have provided a temporary home for more than 100 children and teenagers throughout the last 35 years. They were recently honored for their dedication for being longtime foster care providers. Bulletin photo by Emily Buss

It wasn't a life Cottage Grove resident Scott Elliott ever envisioned for himself.

With a college degree in business administration, fostering at-risk, mentally unstable and abandoned youths was not on his agenda. However, Scott and his wife Karen were recently honored for providing 35 years of foster care to more than 100 children and teenagers.

It takes a unique type of person to become a foster parent. Karen Elliott can attest to that. With a background in psychology and child development, mentoring the younger generation was a passion of hers. But for Scott, that passion came after struggling to find a career in business.

"I was looking for jobs right out of college and ended up working at the (Amherst H.) Wilder Foundation in St. Paul," he said. "It was a social services agency and residential treatment program for kids ages five to 14 years old. I was responsible for about seven to eight kids at a time."

In the late 1970s, Scott, with no previous child care history prior to working at the Wilder Foundation, thought about becoming a temporary foster parent.

"If I can handle a group of emotionally disturbed kids, handling one or two should be a piece of cake," Scott said. "It was not a piece of cake. The dynamics were different because you are changing to more of a home setting."

In 1977, Scott began working at St. Joseph's Home for Children in Minneapolis and met Karen, who was working as support staff. Their passion for helping children ignited a connection and the two married in the late 1980s.

"I knew he was involved in foster care long before we married," Karen said. "Foster care for him was almost a natural extension of his job (at St. Joseph's)."

Scott would go on to pursue two master's degrees, one in secondary education and a second in elementary counseling. Despite having a knack for business, Scott said he had found his true calling.

'Yes, it's worth it'

For the Elliott's three biological children, growing up with kids running in and out of the home was a unique experience, especially for the couple's eldest daughter, Becky. The 22-year-old spends most of her time creating art, reading fantasy novels, and spoiling her pets, but said having parents who are involved in foster care was and, at times still is, an adjustment.

"It just depends on the kid," she admitted. "I enjoy the little kids who come stay with us. I generally get along with them better."

The Elliotts are currently fostering one child but said at the height of their caring, seven youths were living in their home, including their three biological children.

"We have our arguments and disagreements," Scott said. "That comes with any family because we are a family. And it's important to make these kids feel like they are part of a family. The kids need to feel that there is a commitment there and know that we actually care about them. Because they can tell a fake right away."

The Elliott's were reminded of this recently when a former foster child, who was 14 when he entered their home, reconnected with them. The man, now in his 40s, is married with children.

"He just called last week to check in and say hello," Karen said. "It's nice to keep in contact like that. You don't really know the impact that you're having on these kids. But you hope that you're making a positive impact on their life. You have to always think positively."

The Elliotts said thinking positively doesn't always come easy, especially when the foster child is dealing with extraordinary circumstances, such as emotional or mental episodes. Having teenagers throughout the years who have come from dysfunctional backgrounds, Scott said it's all about figuring out their needs. While the family has dealt with its fair share of arguments and intense episodes, Karen said they are few and far between.

"There are times when we look at each other and say 'Can we just stop? I need 15 minutes,'" she admitted. "But then we look back at all the times when the kids would come home from school and do their homework or jump up and help with chores and all the times we went on picnics and family vacations. So yes, it's worth it."

Now enjoying retired life, Scott said he feels younger than ever, especially fostering a young child who is active and fun-loving. The couple regularly attend support groups for foster parents where they exchange tips and ideas to creating a more comfortable atmosphere for those who come stay for brief periods of time.

As one of a handful of couples foster parenting in south Washington County, Scott said there is a need for more, both in the county and throughout the state.

"There is a need in all different aspects from infants through high school kids," he explained. "Even after 18 years old. There is a need for foster parents for transitional care and emergency placement, a need for caregivers for teenage boys and girls, even pregnant women. There is a need across the board."

Suzanne Pollack, resource unit supervisor for Washington County Community Services echoed Scott, saying there is also a need for foster parents to sibling groups and respite, or short-term, care for youth with mental health issues.

"If you can change just one person's life and help them become a productive, healthy adult, especially if they are coming from an extremely dysfunctional background then I think you should do so," Karen said.

"It's a rewarding experience for not only yourself, but it's beneficial for those involved," Scott said of being a foster parent. "In life, there are many choices and you hope to pick the right branch. And, I think I've picked the right one."

For more information about foster services in south Washington County or to become a foster parent, visit the Washington County Community Service website at