Foster Care Stories
Patty Phelps has been a foster parent for over 41 years. She first got involved with foster parenting through her church. Patty and her late husband were involved with a group of missionaries in Vietnam who were helping to find homes for disabled children. At the time, there was no system in Vietnam to care for orphaned disabled children and many of them were being left to fend for themselves in poor living conditions. Patty and her husband decided to adopt a 6-year-old girl from Vietnam who had polio. While the child was on a plane to America, it was shot down and everyone aboard perished. Patty and her husband heard the news from their social worker who later encouraged them to foster children in their community.
After a few months of grieving, Patty and her husband became foster parents for the first time. At the time, there was no limit to how many children a family could foster and no restrictions on living arrangements. Patty recalls a time in her career were she and her husband fostered 13 children in addition to their own biological children. At the time, the compensation for caring for the children's needs was minimal, foster children did not qualify for Medicaid, and foster parents were not provided any training prior to placement. Patty began advocating for better child welfare laws and more support for foster parents. She was part of the Indiana state committee that enacted various regulations on foster care. Patty was instrumental in petitioning for laws which today allow foster children to receive access to medical care through Medicaid.
Today Patty has six biological children, 16 adopted children and 57 grandchildren. She says, "Foster care gave me my children and fostering has made me a better parent and grandparent." After her husband passed away Patty took a break from fostering but renewed her license five years ago. She chose Children's Bureau because of its support system for parents. "I knew I was where I needed to be when I took the Children's Bureau foster parent training," she said. "They gave me information that in all my years of fostering I had never had!" Even now in her late 70s, Patty is a foster parent to two medically fragile children whom she loves. Her children have also adopted from foster care, and she enjoys the fortune of having a large and diverse family.
A puzzle ultimately tells a story; it takes many pieces to complete. This is one piece of our story.
We didn't decide to foster because we wanted to help kids; it was because we wanted a family. Growing up with a sibling that isn't considered "normal" makes a person question his or her genetic traits. What are the chances of having a healthy child? What do we do if we pass on those genetic traits? Is that fair? Those troubling thoughts led us to have genetic testing done. We discovered that we both carry factors inadequate to stable DNA. As difficult as that was, we quickly opted to explore alternative ways to make a family. We chose the foster care system based on three things: these children need parents, we need children, and we all need a family. It just made sense to us.
The process made us think about ourselves, our beliefs and our strength. We knew that the child we took would have more life experience than us. After we finished the classes and home study process, we felt as though the state of Indiana has seen us naked. They know us and what we can handle.
After a lengthy waiting period, we were matched! It was a Friday afternoon. I had just cleaned the house and put the last load of laundry in the dryer around 2 p.m. (That's convenient, right?) Then, I got "the call" from our case worker. My heart melted. I can still hear her voice, so happy and assured, "I have a placement."
At 5:00 p.m. Ryan rushed through the door with a look of panic, probably the same look I had. We were about to become instant, first-time parents. We were licensed for this, yet I did not feel ready. Then seconds later she arrived. This tall, adorable, apprehensive 4 year old walked through the door. Little did we know the transformation that was about to come. I am not going to say we all collapsed into the bundle of love and perfection. There were jagged, raw pieces, but they heal, mold and mesh. Lots of commitment and love went into those pieces, and we were changed. And she has changed. I would never take any of it back, even the parts where my heart rips and hair falls out. We have grown as much as she has and become better, stronger people. So we hope to continue to foster and eventually adopt a few more to continue to fit the pieces together that make us the Buckalews.
My name is Mary, and I have been a foster parent for 10 years. I know that my purpose in life is to give a safe home to kids who are waiting - either to go back to their birth families or be adopted.
Even though my home is not one where children will eventually be adopted, I make sure that every child who comes in feels like this is home.
Trish (not her real name) is one foster child who lived with me. Things were kind of rough in the beginning, but once she got settled in and understood that I wasn't going to cause her any harm, things were pretty good. Between me and Children's Bureau, Trish had love, support and resources she'd never had before. She started to dream of graduating from high school and going on to college.
After a year at my house, Trish was adopted by a loving, supportive family. In addition to aspiring to go to college, she now wants to be a missionary in Africa. She is doing great; she plays soccer at her school and is also an honor roll student.
I feel like when this child came into my home, I gave her the love and the support she needed at that time. I acted a sounding board for her and helped give her some direction. Trish and I are still in contact. She calls me on holidays and at times when she misses me.
God has blessed me, and I do my best to share those blessings with the children that come into my home. Every child counts. Every child matters.
Karen is a proud mom of two teenagers. So proud, in fact, that she works her children and their stories into every conversation she can. In a radio interview with WFYI's "No Limits" host John Krull, Karen spoke about the importance of adoption and how she tries to be as vocal about it as possible. A typical conversation for her goes like this: "Pass the salt. Hey did you know I adopted?"
Karen adopted Neve and Dustin (both 13 years old) from the foster care system. "They are not related by blood, only by me now," she explains. When Karen was the same age her kids are now, she read an article about children aging out of the foster care system and knew she needed to do something about it. Even then Karen knew she wanted to adopt older youth.
Her mother's initial reaction was, "No, you need to get a baby. What if you get a bad one?" Karen jokingly replied, "Well you gave birth to my sister, so what's the difference?"
"There are no bad kids," Karen counters. "There are kids who were taught bad things from the experiences they have had. Love and commitment can do a lot for these kids."
Karen admits that adopting and parenting teens has its challenges. Before making the decision to adopt, she researched many of the issues she knew she would encounter. "I did not want to break anyone's heart," she says. "I did not want to cause those children any more trauma. I knew if I was going to do this, I had to be committed the whole way through." Though she has encountered difficulties along the way, Karen is constantly reminding her children, "You are worth fighting for."
Ultimately, Karen's parenting advice is to build networks - with your kids, with your community, with your family, with your friends. That is how she began her adoption journey, and she still relies on those same networks throughout her parenting journey. "It's really nice to know that I have a community out there," she says. "People always say, 'You're changing the lives of these two kids,' but really the kids are changing my life. I really can't imagine coming home and not having them there."