Hudson County babies from dysfunctional families who need a temporary home can count on the Jaramillos to welcome them with open arms.
Dario and Maria Jaramillo, better known as “Tata” and “Nana” by the 21 medically challenged children they have cared for since 1992, are a model foster family for the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) in Hudson County.
The Colombian couple, married for more than 50 years, has provided care for infants regardless of their race, gender, or illness. They say they do it because they love children, and it’s obvious.
“We get a satisfaction from helping them,” said Maria, last week. “We give them what they do not receive at their homes.”
From their three-bedroom apartment on Kennedy Boulevard in North Bergen, the Jaramillos currently care for two girls ages 13 months and seven months. One is African American and the other is Puerto Rican. A DYFS representative brought them separately into the couple’s home last year. A child’s tenure with the Jaramillos lasts an average of 12 to 16 months.
Since the Jaramillos are a special home service provider foster family, all their children suffer from either a temporary illness or a permanent disease.
“All the children we’ve had were very sick,” Jaramillo said.
The Jaramillos joined the foster care program through a friend who encouraged them to get involved. They moved to Jersey City almost 30 years ago from Colombia with nine children of their own. Their English was not very good, but they managed to find work. Dario worked at several factories and Maria had several jobs while caring for her large family.
“Being a parent is very difficult,” she said.
After their own children moved out of the house more than a decade ago, the couple found themselves with plenty of extra time. They tried hobbies, but Maria said they felt compelled to help others. Despite having more than a dozen grandchildren, they wanted to help sick babies.
“I knew we had to do something with kids,” she said.
When they were approved by DYFS after an eight-month training program, the Jaramillos became foster parents for at-risk babies. Each baby they’ve had in their home leaves a lasting impression on them.
“They all had their own special story,” she said. “We’ve loved them all.”
The most challenging aspect of the 24-hour commitment is caring for the children when they need immediate medical attention. There have been times when they’ve rushed the children to hospitals at night. But they admit that the hospital visits are part of the labor of love.
“Somebody has to care for these children,” Maria said.
There are more than 6,500 foster children statewide, and about 620 live in Hudson County. According to Hudson County DYFS Coordinator Olga Delgado, the county only has 220 foster families, and 10 of them are special home service providers like the Jaramillos.
“There is a definite need for foster families,” Delgado said. “We need more families like the Jaramillos.”
Children fall into the foster care program after their parents have demonstrated to DYFS an inability to properly care for them, and a close relative is unable to care for the child as well. The foster family is the third alternative for DYFS. “We try to rehabilitate the parents or find a relative for the child before we rely on the foster system,” said Delgado.
In 1997, DYFS recognized the Jaramillos as their family of the year. This year, the Child Advocacy Resource Association, based in West New York, gave the family an award for their outstanding service.
“It fills our hearts with love to help children and make them smile,” Dario said.
For more information on how to become a foster parent, call (877) NJ FOSTER or visit them on the web at www.njfostercare.org.