‘This Child Is Safe’

When Birth Parents Forfeit Their Rights, Foster Families’ Next Step Often Adoption

Posted: May 18, 2013

Jonathan and Bonnie gather their children — (from left) Trevan, Troy, Lucille, Tristan and Trenton — for a family photograph. The couple “fell in love” with Trevan “right away,” adopting him at age one and a half. (Photo by Courtesy Photo)
Editor’s Note: Identifying information has been withheld for the privacy of the families and their children.

“I can remember being five years old and running up the driveway to my foster dad,” Mike said. He told his social worker he didn’t want to go back to “that other place,” his birth parents’ home.

Now a foster dad himself, Mike has watched children grow into happy, healthy young adults. He and his wife Robin have adopted three.

They along with Andy and Loretta, and Jonathan and his wife Bonnie, are three local couples opening their homes and hearts to displaced children as foster families.

“There are really not enough hands out there helping these kids,” said Loretta. “It’s knowing that you’re doing something that’s a bridge under a kid that otherwise wouldn’t have it ... that you are making a difference in this kid’s life.”

So far this year, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Department of Social Services has taken in as many foster children as they did in all of 2012, according to Ralph Berry, foster parent trainer at Children’s Services in Harrisonburg.

Thirty-three percent of foster children nationally have their parental rights terminated and are not able to return home; 422,000 are in foster care in the U.S., with about 7,000 in Virginia.

Birth parents are given many opportunities to earn their parental rights back, but sometimes are unable or unwilling to do so. At that point, foster families may choose to adopt.

Children’s Services takes great care to place children in homes that will fit the needs of all involved, from their personalities to what hobbies they enjoy.

Andy and Loretta particularly enjoy tackling the task of teenage years, though Loretta said laughing, “I wouldn’t have taken me in as a teenager for anything.”

Their daughter was 11 when she entered foster care, and 13 when they adopted her; one of many foster children to pass through their home, along with four biological children, now grown.

It gets rowdy. “We’d have to go up and quiet them down,” said Andy, of their laughing, chasing and horse-playing. “But it’s just such a wonderful experience.”

In Jonathan’s household, things are a little more calm but no less joyous. He and Bonnie decided three years ago to go through the training to become foster parents. They were called to Charlottesville to visit a four month old baby boy soon after.

“Would you like to hold him?” the nurse asked. “We most certainly would,” they said. Gently; he’d been abused, with two broken legs and multiple rib fractures, as well as shaken baby syndrome.

“Of course I fell in love right away,” Jonathan said. They adopted him at age one and a half, when his birth parents’ rights were terminated.

Mike and Robin, however, came to Children’s Services with no intention of adopting. Their own children were adults, and it was time to welcome more into their empty nest. When they told Ralph they were only willing to foster, he simply smiled and said, “OK ...”

They adopted their first son three years ago, followed by two more. “for me, it’s seeing them grow from the way they were when they first got with us,” Mike said. Even their first’s biological grandparent comments on the changes he’s made since being adopted. “That means a lot.”

Being Foster Parents
Life isn’t always cabbage-patch perfect for foster families, however; much of the job is willingness to put their own love on the line.

“Many foster kids lie; if you saw your parents lie to the police and child protective services, what would you learn?” asked Ralph. “A lot of our kids hoard food; well, if you weren’t fed on a regular basis, what would you do? The number one emotion our kids feel is fear, and they act in reaction to that.”

But often, it’s outsiders that challenge the foster parents the most, not the children themselves.

“I was really rooting for these parents,” Loretta recalls, of one foster child’s birth family. “He wanted that so bad, even though it was really, really bad.”

She and Andy fought for years to give their daughter a secure home. “The process was one which ... you can have her when you pry her out of my hands,” Loretta said.

“When you get that birth certificate for the child in your hands, you bawl like a baby,” Andy agreed. “Finally, this child is safe. It’s such an emotional roller coaster.”

For Robin and Mike, raising children from broken homes sometimes means taking on an unsympathetic world. When their elementary-school aged son mistakenly spoke up about abuses in his former life, his peers made him feel isolated and malicious.

“They’ve grown up this way, it’s generational — these kids will break that cycle and don’t have to repeat what went on,” noted Ralph.

Andy sees that in their teenagers’ behaviors now. Their son just bought his first car with money he saved. “When you have a child come into your home that’s on track to being in a gang or being a drug runner, and is angry at the world — and you have him for two and a half years and absolutely everybody who comes in contact with him just love and completely trust him — an attitude change and the beautiful side of that person has come out. That’s rewarding.”

Loretta nodded. “It’s like this really good kid is buried somewhere,” she said, turning her hands in the shape of a puzzle cube. “They just need the right environment to grow in.”

Mike was adopted at age 29, when his own firstborn was on the way, by the family he grew up with.

“Was there a time when you said, ‘Thank God I was there, and those people were there?’ ” Andy asked Mike, of his own foster home childhood.

“That was a big moment for me,” Mike recalled. “I ran to my foster dad, and he picked me up, and I was talking about not wanting to go back there. And I was told I wouldn’t have to anymore.”

Want To Know More?
Adoption for foster families is free. For more information on fostering or fostering to adopt through Children’s Services, call Ralph Berry at (540) 801-0900 or email ralphberry@csv-inc.com.

Contact Samantha Cole at 574-6274 or scole@dnronline.com.

NDN Video News