“Nathan and I grew up together in the same church in rural Georgia. He had plans to attend medical school and I always wanted to be a stay at home mom. We talked about adoption early on, but we couldn’t afford it, or so we thought. We were married two years when we had our first child, Erin. Nathan had abandoned his med school ideas for something more family-friendly. He was accepted to The College of Pharmacy at UGA and we moved to Athens at the six-month mark of my second pregnancy. Nathan jokes he thought he would die that first year of Pharmacy school. They try and weed out the weak during the first year, and at the start of second semester, I gave birth to a baby boy named Landon who never slept and threw up four times the amount he took in. EVERY. SINGLE. HOUR. We learned a lot about reflux and how to function on zero sleep with two kids under two years old. Looking back, that time is a blur of mixed emotions and a very tiny budget. I don’t know how we made it to the other side, but by the grace of God.
Fast forward through the next few years, bypassing countless diapers, bottles, pediatrician visits and some added pounds on more than just the babies. How are we still alive and sane?? Erin and Landon are growing into beautiful and smart young people. hey have empathy, compassion, hearts to serve Jesus, and are the best of friends.
When Erin was in the fifth grade, we met Kylee. We had met her at school while attending field trips and stopping by for the occasional lunches. Kylee looked at the floor when you spoke to her. She was beyond shy. She was timid and terrified to speak. Her voice was the shell of a girl traumatized. What I saw, was what could be. I looked at this child and saw so much potential. When Erin came home the following January and said Kylee is in foster care, Nathan and I knew that the chats we’d been having over the years about becoming foster parents were all leading to this time, and this child. Little did we know at the time, that Kylee had siblings.
We started the grueling process to become foster parents. We signed up for classes, and accepted the mountain of paperwork with enthusiasm. We learned about trauma, secondary trauma, ODD, conduct disorder, sexual abuse, physical abuse, bio parent visitation, per diem, travel restrictions and about a kazillion other things that you quickly forget as soon as you have your first placement. After five months, we were finally approved and open for placement.
So, my first call was to ask for Kylee to be placed with us. I was told no, because she has siblings and we didn’t have space for them all. What…????? So, she should sit inside the group home she’s been in for months, ALREADY separated from her siblings, instead of being moved to a private home?!?! Mmmmmmk DFCS, you make lots of sense. But, being a timid new foster parent, I didn’t want to rock the boat. Maybe we aren’t supposed to be her foster parents, I thought. Maybe we are to help some other kids for a while. So, we did. Over the next year we hosted a sibling group of 3, several other kiddos for a night here and there, sometimes a week at a time. I know now that those experiences were paving the way for our hearts to be ready for what was coming.
I finally had enough of the stories Kylee was sharing with Erin of the stuff she saw in her group home. I made the call that changed my life. I told our case worker that I wouldn’t accept any more placements unless it was Kylee. Kylee spent the first year of her stint in care inside that girls group home. I’m not knocking group homes; they serve a purpose. But they are not for every child, and can sometimes do more damage than help. Kylee saw some sad and dangerous things from some really broken young ladies inside that home. Kylee was eleven when she came into foster care.
Imagine being at school, sitting in your sixth-grade class and having a CPS worker pick you up and tell you that you can’t live at home anymore, and also, you’ll have to be separated from your brothers because no foster home has room to take so many siblings. She will tell you that she spent countless nights crying herself to sleep. Confused and hurt and angry and a myriad of other emotions she then couldn’t name. The boys, being younger, have had an even harder time and a different experience. When I asked her to describe how that first night felt, she said, ‘Mom, I can’t. There aren’t words.’
Let me back, up. Cause she just called me ‘Mom’ and I bet that sounds weird since for all you know, she is a girl just coming from a group home. We moved her in in December, just a few weeks before her one- year anniversary of coming into care. Her bio family was moving toward the end of their case and hoping to achieve permanency in the coming months. For the next while, we parented along side them. We talked daily, we celebrated birthdays together, we championed their efforts to grow and be a tad better than they were the day before. We laughed and cried together.
Sometimes though, things just don’t work out as we hope they will. Kylee and the other siblings walked through the termination of their bio’s parental rights. It’s the hardest thing I have ever watched. No amount of training or classes can prepare you to watch another person lose legal rights to their child. It’s heartbreaking. We adopted Kylee July 9, 2018.
She is sixteen now, and such a changed person.
She grown so much through therapy and whole family interaction. She is loud, and outgoing. She has mountains of friends, a successful academic career and a lively after school job she adores. She’s a champion of her siblings and friends. She is a lover of her parents and speaking her mind. I am proud to say she thinks I am the coolest mom to ever walk the planet, and lets just go ahead and admit, I am pretty freaking amazing. LOL. She loves her Dad, and is so proud of who he is. She has said before, he doesn’t say much, but when he does, you better listen up because it’ll be worth remembering.
At the end of 2015, I decided that I wanted a break from fostering kids who could tell me their trauma experience. The girls were after us to foster a sweet little newborn, any would do for them. Now, adopting a baby wasn’t on our radar, EVER. We simply toyed with the idea of partnering with the parents of a newborn and helping them find the right path. So, we brought one little precious soul home and loved that baby unconditionally. That kiddo is a part of our souls. That kid is a part of our story that we can’t yet tell. But when we can, I will be the one shouting it from the mountain tops, because this child deserves the world on a silver platter. They all do.
A couple months before the finalization of Kylee’s adoption, my husband came in and announced that he felt a burden for us to keep Kylee’s siblings with her and adopt them all. I was floored. When he made this particular proclamation, I had just come home from a procedure for a breast cancer scare, and I honestly thought it was the Valium talking. After prayer and some talking, I quickly realized that I wasn’t in a drug induced haze, and we were on our way to growing our family even larger. We made arrangements to have the boys moved to us and announced to our friends and family that we were adopting them all.
So, we then had 7 children inside a 3-bedroom house with 2.5 bathrooms. Showering required a schedule, and toilet usage was always something to fight for. We were cramped, we were on top of each other, BUT we were having a freaking blast!
Ya’ll, it gets better…
Fast forward two weeks and my husband of 18 years tells me that he feels a burden to quit his job. Some unsavory things were happening at his place of employment and he couldn’t stay there and be a part of it. Sure, Nathan. Let’s adopt of bunch of kids, and use my stay at home mom salary to feed them. Genius plan. See, my husband had a bit more faith in Jesus at that moment than I did. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was skeptical. But I trust my husband, so we sent in a resignation letter.
A few short weeks later, he accepted an even better position, only it was in Texas. So, we packed up a very large family and moved half way across the country. Thankfully, to a much larger house that could better accommodate such a large family. Of course, we hadn’t finalized the adoptions of the boys yet, so now we were dealing with an ICPC between states. They worked marvelously together though. We were able to finalize July 17, 2019. A year to the day after we moved to Texas. That day felt like such a long time coming. So much joy that I didn’t know was even possible to feel.
1,628 days my sons spent in foster care. They spent 39,069 hours split between group and family foster homes.
Nick is 14 years old this month. He entered foster care January 30, 2015. In that time, my then 8-year-old spent his formative tween years between a group home, 4 family foster homes, 2 mental health facilities, 7 different schools in 5 different counties in 2 different states. Nick’s experience, although having the same trauma as his siblings, manifested differently than theirs. Nick couldn’t find words to describe how he felt. He can remember in vivid detail the day they entered foster care, and so many details about the next few years they spend on their journey to wholeness and a forever family. He describes those first few hours as strange, and hard. When the kids were pulled to a room at the school at the end of the day, he says he thought they were just going to after school care. He says it was confusing to hear that these two CPS workers, who were strangers, were taking them into states custody and they wouldn’t be going home. He couldn’t understand why.
For most all kids in foster care, what they see at home is their norm. They don’t understand why the world views their family as broken, or their parent’s choices as ‘bad’. It’s important to remember that they love their families. They always will. It’s a blessing to be part of a second start for these children, and walk alongside them as they grow into their God given potential.
Aiden, my now 10-year-old, entered foster care when he was only 5. He has been in five to six different family foster homes; he doesn’t know the actual number because he can’t recall. How could he? He ventures to guess he has been in 10 different schools. I am positive that number isn’t accurate. But it makes one stop and think, he was FIVE. It’s a whirlwind of changes for me, and I have access to the accurate info. He doesn’t remember much of the first day, just that they went into a group home. I can tell you that a group home is no place for a kindergartener. We all want to sit and hold our babies as long as they will allow. This boy craves that. He is 10 now and it’s very normal for him to sit right beside you, as close as humanly possible, and stay there for hours. He craves hugs, and affection, and encouragement. It’s an honor to give it to him.
Why is it that a county with 104,000 people, with around 225 kids in foster care, doesn’t have enough homes to keep sibling groups together? Why is it that after 4.46 years in foster care, my sons are just now reaching finalization of an adoption? There is a ton of back story with case plans and termination and court hearings that would just make you angry, and that is their story to tell, when they are ready.
For now, my point in all this is to say that the system is broken. Biological families don’t often get the help they need, as often they are a product of the system themselves. Foster families don’t get the help they need to address their foster child’s trauma. Ya’ll, it’s a BATTLEFIELD. But most importantly, there aren’t enough people stepping up and doing what is necessary to love the innocent. Each and every child deserves a mountain of love and support. Initially I was concerned about telling our story because there are certain parts that have to be left out. HUGE parts. I was worried how those affected by having to be left out would feel….but then I realized that not telling our story at all would be worse, would do them an injustice, would be a disservice to so many others who walk this path to becoming a loving support person to a child in limbo. For us, it isn’t about growing our family. It never has been. It’s always been about providing love and support and showing Jesus to a child in need, for however long they needed it.
If you’re afraid you can’t handle the possibility of a child going back home to their bio family, then you’d love them enough. If you feel like you can’t afford it, then you’re thinking of their needs and not your own gain. If you’re afraid your biological children would be hurt, let me assure you that the gain is far greater than any temporary hurt feelings or jealousy. If you are afraid you wouldn’t love them the same as your bio kids, let me assure you that you would. If you’re afraid your marriage couldn’t take it, let me assure you that you’ll grow closer, and stronger together. If you think any of those thoughts, let me gently remind you that it just ain’t about you. Being a foster parent is a sacrificial choice. It’s about being Jesus to someone else. Believe me, you will stumble. I fail daily. But you get back up, you ask God for grace, and you show your flaws to the hurting children in your home. They need to see that no one is perfect. And if you’re reading this and feeling a tug at your heart strings, let me help you find a way to help.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Caroline Wooten of Texas. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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