Posted Friday, May 25, 2018 by Rich Bowlen

From Foster Care to Forever Family

Editor's note: Earlier this week, we shared 10 Inspiring Foster Care Success Stories in honor of National Foster Care Month. Today, we have one more story from Rich Bowlen, Northwoods' vice president of protective services.

Rich previously spent 25 years in child and adult protective services working tirelessly to do the most good for the most vulnerable kids, families, and adults. Today, he continues to advocate for social workers who commit themselves to making a difference in the lives of those who need it most.

A few days ago, I received a high school graduation announcement for a young man named Ryan*.

Around 13 years ago, our agency was called to Ryan’s home because he and his little brother were locked in a 2nd-story bedroom. Ryan was four, and his little brother, Joseph, was almost three. They were discovered because little ornery Ryan was hanging out of the window at 10 pm. No adult, including mom, could be found in the home.

It had already been a busy and tiring Saturday, so I offered to go to the home to help give our on-call social worker a break. Ryan and Joseph were about as feral as they come. The room they had been locked in had a urine-stained mattress on the floor, and both boys had feces stuck so firmly to their bodies it couldn’t be removed without harming their skin. Neither spoke a single wordthey barely even offered grunts. I fell in love with the little guys immediately.

Their first few weeks in foster care, both boys would throw their food on the floor and eat like dogs. Amazingly, the foster family adjusted their entire family’s routine by having all meals served picnic-style on the floor with paper plates to help the boys begin down a new road. There were additional concerns for Ryan, as he would not cry. No matter how disappointed he was, or even how hard he fell, the little guy would not cry. A behavioral therapist decided that since no one had likely ever responded to his cries, he learned to not cry at all. Everything had to be relearned.

To say it was a rough start for these little guys is an understatement.

Within a year and a half, and with the help of their foster parents, Ryan and Joseph were adopted. Our agency—and quite honestly our family—remained in contact with Ryan and Joseph’s family as they moved from Ohio to Colorado.

Both boys are doing amazing today.

Ryan went from a developmentally-handicapped classroom setting, to being mainstreamed, to taking regular classes. He became the star of his baseball team and is now graduating. Joseph still has a couple of years left. 

Receiving Ryan’s graduation announcement made me immediately well up with tears. From seeing where this little guy started to how well he’s doing now is just incredible. To know that both he and his brother have had a loving, caring, and supportive family for all these years—and many more years to come—is an amazing success.

*Names and some details have been changed for confidentiality.


Rich Bowlen, Vice President of Protective Services, Northwoods Rich Bowlen’s goal is and always has been to give his very best day in and day out to do the most good for the most kids. As vice president of protective services at Northwoods, Rich is dedicated to improving the lives of caseworkers and social workers so they can focus on what they do best: supporting the children, adults, and families that rely on the agency’s care.