IU School of Nursing lecturer and former public health nurse Jessica Klipsch touches lives as foster parent

By Rachel Leshinsky

Indiana University School of Nursing lecturer Jessica Klipsch, MSN, RN, CNE, has based her career on increasing public health awareness and improving the health of communities. As a public health nurse, she worked with the pediatric clinic at the Marion County Public Health Department focusing on mother-child care and health promotion.

“I was in the living room of poverty,” she said. “I saw it first-hand.”

Along with her desire to teach, this experience led her to attend IUSON to get her master’s degree in nursing education. Klipsch now teaches undergraduate students in their third semesters and her classes include a wide range of topics including community health, maternity health, disparities, outcomes, and responses to health crises as nurses and global citizens.

“Clinical experience is an important aspect of my ‘Healthy Populations’ class,” said Klipsch. “Service learning allows students to work through differences they may have with patients and prepares them for real-life situations.”

Little did Klipsch know that her knowledge and experience in community health systems would be so useful in her life down the road.

“When I was pregnant with my second son, I had this very strong feeling that fostering was in our future,” she said. “I wanted to be a helper and supporter in the adoption process. While we were informed by our faith on the topic, my husband and I also felt that if we had the resources we should step up.”

After an intense screening process with the Department of Child Services (DCS), the couple was approved in summer 2016 to begin fostering children. Klipsch made the decision to sign-up to foster newborns because she had experience treating babies discharged from neonatal intensive care units as a community health nurse. Within a year and a half, five babies have been placed in her home at different times.

“I forgot what it was like to take care of a pre-mature baby – they need to be fed every two hours!” she said. “Even though it can be hard work at times, my husband and I are committed to creating a safe and stable environment for these babies while giving them a sense of connection and love for however long we have them.”

Klipsch describes their approach as an interactive one that includes the family of the child. Having worked with DCS throughout her career, Klipsch understands how busy case workers tend to be, so she offers to take the child to visitations and shares how the child is doing with the parents.

“After all,” she said, “These children didn’t ask to be put in the position to be rescued – we’re rooting for them to be reunited.”

She says that this entire process has been a very humbling one and that the contribution feels good. Her two biological sons, 8 and 11, are helpful and nurturing with the babies. While it is difficult to say goodbye to the children, Klipsch said, it is uplifting to see the reunion.

“Even though it is really hard to part with these kids, it brings us more peace to hand back the baby to their parents,” she said. “There’s a quote that I always keep in the back of my mind during those times, ‘these kids need love more than you need to protect your heart.’”

Her advice to those looking to become foster parents is that if you’re walking in to the situation with any expectations, you have to take a sledgehammer to them.

“The reality is we can’t predict outcomes,” she said. “All we can do is try and stay positive.”

One aspect that Klipsch was not prepared for is how much she had to interact with public assistance programs as a foster parent. She says she is now sitting in the waiting rooms with the families she used to treat.

“It’s been eye-opening and challenging to navigate within a broken system,” she said. “I’m now living through it and working to understand the intricacies.”

Klipsch has had embarrassing moments like not having enough food stamps to pay for groceries or being reprimanded for not keeping every detail straight, but she continuously builds herself up to go back every day.

She is able to take these experiences back to the classroom because she is seeing concepts raised in class, such as empowering case managers to seek justice for families and effect change, play out right in front of her. Klipsch is proud be an advocate for the children, health care workers and social service personnel inside and outside of the classroom.

“There’s so much more beneath the surface than what a nurse or doctor sees in his or her office,” said Klipsch. “It’s helped me better explain to my students the barriers social workers and patients have to face and teach future nurses how to put the pieces together.”