Doing it all Over Again

by Joy Coordinator

Bob and Janet Harrison were ready to retire and move to Florida. The hardworking couple had raised a blended family of five children and was looking forward to starting the next phase of their life. With everyone out of the nest and a new motorcycle in the garage, they were preparing their home for sale. Then, the unimaginable happened.

Indiana’s Department of Child Services (DCS) showed up at the Harrison’s door with news that five of their grandchildren were in custody. The children had been removed from their mother’s care as a result of substance abuse. They were shocked. “Our daughter, Ashley, had always been an attentive, loving mom,” Bob explained. Her parents described her as a model mother who fed, bathed and tucked her children in with a story each night.

According to Bob and Janet, things started to change when Ashley rekindled a relationship with an old friend through Facebook. Eventually Ashley was expecting. She and the children moved in with the new boyfriend. “He seemed like an ok guy—good with the kids and eager to please Ashley,” Bob said. But unbeknownst to the Harrisons, he had pulled her into his downward spiral of opiate abuse. At age 28, she used heroin for the first time with disastrous consequences.

Having DCS show up at their door left the Harrisons feeling violated, but the more they grew to know their designated case manager, the more comfortable they felt. “You hear the horror stories, but once we found out what the true goals were, it was almost like having a monthly visit with family,” Bob said.

Today Bob and Janet are foster parents to their five grandchildren. Some might have chosen the freedom of retirement, but the Harrisons held tightly to their faith and church family for perspective. As Bob puts it, “God said, ‘Nope, you’re going to raise five more.’ So we said, ‘Ok, here we go!’”

The family was referred to Children’s Bureau for services when Bryan, the oldest grandchild, started expressing thoughts of self-harm. “As a therapist, I impart hope, teach coping skills, and become a trusted adult who he can tell his innermost horrible feelings,” Michelle Harrison explained. According to Grandma and Grandpa, Bryan is much better at controlling his temper now. “It was almost like he was trying to be a parent to the other kids,” Bob said, “but we reminded him that Grandma and Grandpa are here, and he just needs to be a kid.”

Bob and Janet believe in their daughter’s ability to recover, but for now their plan is to adopt the children. “They’re our life,” Janet says. “We’ll do what we have to do to make sure they’re safe.”