Crusade for the Invisible Foster Child
I added this a year after I had written this original story. I stated earlier in frustration, that I wondered if we ever helped even one child. A year later after child number thirty (Tony age 4) and thirty-one (Jose age 6) left our home I came to realize the maybe we did help these children’s lives a little bit. These two little boys had very little to hold onto in their short lives. They lost their mother to drugs and the father struggled to just survive and care for the boys. Jose was a little rough around the edges and had very few personal possessions. He was not even in the house a day before he had taken my son’s toys and money and hid them in his backpack. I did not get angry because Jose’s stealing. I understood that when Jose and his brother showed up to our house they did not have one toy or even a change of clothes and that this is how they had to survive up to this point. All I told Jose was that in our house that we do not steal from each other and we share everything including toys and food.
Tony the four year old had never been taught appropriate social skills to even function as a normal little boy. Tony was that little boy you have seen in the grocery store throwing a fit and you were wondering why his parents did not discipline him. When Tony wanted something he would not ask for it, but would scream and demand it. The first few days were rough with the boys. One time they told us we were not their parents and did not have to listen to us. My wife and I had to be firm and consistent with our rules.
“CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE, AND LIVE WHAT THEY LEARN”
It was a small miracle what happened next, the boys began to model our behavior. Tony who had never had a mothers influence began to truly bond to my wife. I had to smile each night because Tony, the same little boy that screamed that he hated her and did not have to listen to her had grown to love her. When my wife would sit on the couch Tony would sit so close to her that you could not have slid even one piece of paper between them.
In a few weeks the boys went back to their Dad. We were all sad to see the boys go but Dad seemed like a good man that loved his boys. The difficulty of being poor and raising two little boys by himself had been hard on him. As I reflect back on Tony’s and Jose’s stay with us I can now see how we may have helped the children that came into our home. We taught them to say please and thank you. We taught them how to give hugs for no reason. We taught them how to share with others. We taught them how to sit at the kitchen table and talk about our day. We taught them to pray and thank God that we have each other in our lives. We taught them to thank God for our food, and for our family dog, Oreo. So as I look back on all the children that came to our home, I guess we may have helped a little bit. Maybe someday, when these children grow up they will model what they have learned in our home and maybe little Tony will always remember the touch of a mothers heart and the feel of unconditional love.
EARLIER I SAID...
Being a foster parent takes effort and a desire to never give up. Terri, my wife, works 40 to 50 hours a week at her job. Terri has a gift to make a child feel safe and loved in a short time. She lets the children participate in keeping an orderly household. The children help pick up after themselves and help prepare some of the meals. This I believe will help these children one day to become good mommies and daddies. She can be tough, with just enough love and hugs to make it work. One cool thing she does is she lets the children make and decorate their own birthday cakes. This can be quite an adventure. She often comes home exhausted from work but still has enough energy to make a happy home. It takes patience, determination, teamwork, prayer, and love to make it all work.
Everyone is probably wondering how being a foster parent has affected my own biological children, Kayla and Colton. Kayla was already in college living in Wichita Falls. Kayla has a gentle spirit like my wife and has loved all our children. Colton, my son who was still in high school and living at home, was most affected by foster children. Being a teenager, Colton was the rock star of the house. The kids were constantly vying for his attention. Every time a new child would enter our house it would be chaotic for a few weeks. I know this was tough on Colton. When we got lice I thought he was going to move out. I learned lice are hard to get rid of, so I finally just named our lice and made them a family pet.
There was one day that would change Colton’s life forever. It was when Jarod and Ashton left our home to go back to their parents. The boys had lived with us for over a year. I was out of town so Colton had to help Terri move the boys out of the house. On that day, he saw how hard it was to return the boys back into the world from which they came. The boys were crying and begging them not leave. It was a heart breaking moment. Colton went to his room and did not come out until the next day. We never spoke of that day again.
I know all these different children in our home has disrupted our lives and made life a little hectic, but it has also brought much joy and wonderful memories into our lives. Kayla and Colton have seen firsthand how blessed their lives have been compared to the other children. Our experiences have taught them that even though it can be tough you can make a difference in the world. Colton made me so proud when he called an autistic boy who was the manager on his basketball team and invited him to lunch before he went off to college. Colton had learned to help others and be kind to those less fortunate than him even if it meant being ridiculed by his friends. Kayla my daughter has told me that she would take care of any of the children we adopted if anything was to happen to my wife and I. She said, “They may not be blood, but they are still my brothers and sisters”. She has learned the true meaning of family. I will let you make the conclusion on how all these children have affected them. I know what my answer will be.
KAYLA AND COLTON
Today, Jaylynn and Jesiah act like normal happy children. The only side effects we have noticed is they have a constant fear that Matt and Amanda will come back. Jesiah was the most abused by Matt and Amanda. He is extremely afraid of the dark and that Matt and Amanda will sneak into the house and take him. Jesiah has even asked me if I would kill them. They ask almost every day if they have been arrested and put in jail. Terri and I assured them both that we would not let anyone ever hurt them again. It saddens my heart that two small innocent children have to carry such fear and hate.
After fifteen days of severe abuse, Jesiah lost an extreme amount of weight and could not stop crying. Amanda, the mother, panicked and drove him to the C.P.S. building and dumped him out front on the porch. His body temperature had dipped to eighty nine degrees and he was in a hypothermic state. His organs were just about to shut down. The doctor said in just one more day he would have died.
The reason you have not read about this is because Matt and Amanda are on the run so no arrests have been made. Jesiah was in the hospital for almost two weeks. He was a skeleton of the little boy he once was. While in the hospital still too sick to walk on his own Jesiah asked, “Why can’t someone just love me”? He seemed so sad and looked as if he was giving up on life. At this moment, I knew my home would be Jesiah’s last stop. When we brought Jesiah home, it was a very difficult time. They both seemed very happy at first, and then Jesiah started having panic attacks and would fly into a rage. These rages would last up to two hours and he would start smashing his toys and screaming uncontrollably. To keep him from hurting himself we removed everything from his room except an inflatable mattress. After about three weeks the rages just stopped. I guess he finally felt safe and we have never had an episode again.
The next boys that came to live with us were Ashton (5years old) and Jarod (2 years old). We kept these boys longer than any other children. The boys had two other brothers (ages 3 and 4) living in another foster home. Child Protective Services was called when Ashton caught their apartment on fire while trying to cook for his brothers. The parents had been leaving the boys at home alone each day for months. Ashton and Jarod showed up at our home at about two in the morning. They were filthy and Jarod had the world’s worst Mohawk haircut (as if there was ever a good Mohawk). Child protective services did not bring the children fully dressed or any of their stuff because they thought they might have lice.
Jarod has severe anger issues, most likely because at age five he had the responsibility of taking care of his brothers. The first time I tried to play catch with Ashton he threw the ball over my head and then charged at me threatening to hurt me, and then stated if I missed it again he was going to hurt me. I am not going to lie, I was a little intimidated. I was shocked that such a young child could show such a violent reaction. Ashton and I discussed appropriate behavior in the situation. So the next day we tried it again and it got worse. We were at the park and Ashton lost his temper again and began screaming at me. I yelled back and he took off running towards traffic. I was carrying Jarod so I just stopped chasing him. Ashton eventually stopped running and cooled off and came back to me. I decided I was not going to ask Ashton to play again. Instead, I told him if he wanted to play he was going to ask me under the one condition that he acted appropriately. It took about a week but finally Ashton brought me the ball and asked me to play. I told him my expectations and we finally played our first successful game of catch.
When Ashton started kindergarten he immediately became a behavior problem. Ashton was extremely far behind academically from his classmates. When Ashton arrived at our house, he did not even know how old he was. He could not count to ten and could not identify even one color. We knew his parents had been leaving the boys at home alone. They had no television or toys to stimulate their minds. They just found ways to entertain themselves. In Ashton’s short five years he became the parent to his three younger brothers. He was their leader and smartest of them all. In school he grew frustrated because he went from the smartest kid in the house to the “dumbest” in his class. Jarod and Aston have taught me how important a good environment is for learning. I am not sure if it is even possible to catch a boy like Ashton up to his classmates because he was just so far behind. Jarod and Ashton were awarded back to their parents. This was difficult to understand because the mother had been arrested three times and the father had flunked several drug tests while they were in our care. The one thing that will stick with me was the boy’s willingness to smile. They made me appreciate everything I have in this world because the boys had nothing. I remember the first night the boys stayed in our home Ashton asked if we had spiders. Later, I learned that was all the boys had in their old home to play with was some Daddy Long Leg Spiders that had built their web in their closet.
I did not see the boys for probably 3 years. We saw them at a pizza party for foster children and they both immediately ran up to me and my wife and called us mom and dad. It was hard to not just cry on the spot. We learned that the boys once again had been taken away from their parents and were now living at the children’s home as orphans. We found out Ashton had to be placed in a group home because of his anger issues. The same issues he was having when he lived with us. I just could not believe that Jarod who was only two and a half when we had him still remembered us. At the end of the night we hugged them good bye and little Jarod whispered, “Will you please come and see me tomorrow”. That moment just broke my heart. My wife and I discussed adopting all four brothers, but we were afraid six small children would be just too many for us to handle. We did hear some good news later that a family had stepped up and adopted all four boys and gave them a forever home.
PLEASE HAVE SPIDERS
Here are a few stories of some of the children we have had in our home. I have changed their names to protect them. Our first two children were Jonathan (2 ½ years old) and Jesse (1 ½ years old). They were quite a challenge because we were older and it was hard for us to keep up with them. These two boys were always happy and loved to cuddle up with us. We learned that Jonathan had been exposed to many sexual acts because he often would imitate these acts. We came to find out that the boy’s mother had been beaten in front of them.
One night, the boys and I were wrestling on the floor and I grabbed my wife and pulled her into the fray. Jonathon thought I was hurting her. He lost it and started punching me and ran and hid behind the stairs. It took him weeks to start trusting me again. Even though the everyday life with the boys was difficult because of what they had already been through, we grew to love them as our own. We decided to make them a permanent part of our family. Before we could adopt them, an aunt came into the picture and wanted the boys. The Aunt was blood kin so she was awarded the boys. Our hearts were broken. We did not know if we were cut out to be foster parents.
We had not heard anything about the boys for almost three years. Then one day in our local newspaper there was a story of a three year old little girl that had been killed by her babysitter. That was when we recognized the babysitter as the Aunt that had adopted Johnathon and Jesse. The Aunt is now serving life in prison. All we know now is the boys are now back in foster care.
This was our first experience on how the system failed these children. I am not sure who is to blame; maybe we should not always push for reunification with the next of kin but focus solely on the best interest of the child. Johnathon and Jesse brought so much joy and happiness into our home. After learning the boy’s fate their sweet little faces often haunt my thoughts. I will always wonder if I could have done more to protect them. If I had one wish I hope they can keep their innocence and still like to cuddle and give hugs and kisses.
OUR FIRST KIDS
About 6 years ago, Terri and I jumped right in. We went to two months of classes and remodeled our home. We thought we were going to gallop in on our white horse and save the world. We learned that there are no white horses. Instead, we galloped into a world of sadness and pain; seeing and hearing things that would haunt our dreams. These children enter a world they do not know and do not understand why they are there. I learned that many of these kids have lost trust because everyone in their life has let them down. We learned that these children are truly a forgotten group in our society. The number of children we found in foster care was astounding. There are not enough good homes for these children.
JUMPED RIGHT IN
In coaching, I have run across many children that are in foster care. One of the first students was a young lady that ran on my team. She would always tell me that her real Dad was going to come and watch her run. Her Dad kept making empty promises. She would beg me to wait around after each meet hoping her father would show up. We waited for two years and he never came. Her father is now in prison for life. On our team, I have had other foster kids whose parents were drug dealers and one lived in a car for about a year and another boy had lived on the streets in Colorado Springs as a runaway.
What really got us thinking about getting involved was when the kids I coached would talk about their foster homes. I was shocked how some foster families treated the foster children different from their biological children. Some of the children would not be allowed to eat with the main family, but in a separate room. They were not allowed to go on family vacations. Instead, they would be crammed into other foster homes until the main family returned. At Christmas, they would talk about how many presents the biological children would get and how little they got. They would try to justify it to me why this is okay. I coached a girl for four years and her adoptive foster parents never came and saw her run once. They wondered why she had behavior problems. The one story that pushed us over the edge was that of a sixteen year old girl. She had been in eight foster homes since the age of four. She told me that she never felt like she was a part of the family. She was finally adopted when she was sixteen and said it was the first time she ever felt like a part of a family. I asked her why this family was different. She said it was the first time someone had ever taken her shopping and let her pick out her clothes. All of the foster homes that had this young girl before should be ashamed. Hearing these stories would change my family’s life forever.
NO WHITE HORSES
REASON WE GOT INVOLVED
I hope you understand that I am not telling this story to make my family look like heroes. I have met many foster families and C.P.S. workers that have done much more than my family. This is just my insight of what I have experienced being a foster parent.
(The following is Terri and my story of being foster parents)
This is a story of nineteen children out of thousands in the state of Texas. This is a story of nineteen children out of hundreds of thousands in the United States. This is a story of nineteen children out of millions in the world. Every time I read the newspaper or watch the news, I pray it’s not one of my children. Each day I cannot help wondering if all my children are safe. You see foster children every day. They are in your church, in your classroom or in your neighborhood. They have been pulled in and out of homes their whole lives. They have no true home and no true mommies and no true daddies. These children slip through the cracks in our society and are truly the “forgotten children”. Sometimes I feel my entire life has been leading up to this point. It has become my purpose in life to protect these invisible children. I was once asked, “How do you do it? How can you take in a child and grow to love them knowing that one day they will leave? “All I can say is when a scared, sick or hurt child shows up at your door at two in the morning, how can you not do it?
"In the world of child abuse, there are no heroes, no one gets to ride off in the sunset, and there are no white horses."
Since this story was written we have adopted a third and fourth child.
THE INVISIBLE CHILDREN
Another favorite time of mine is when we are in church. Kylee seems so happy; she will hold my hand and my wife’s hand during the songs with a big smile on her face. You can just feel how safe and happy she is in her new life. During the prayers Kylee and I are always peaking to see if each other’s eyes are closed. When we catch each other peaking we just give a silent grin to confirm we have busted each other. Camden always makes me smile when my wife has to work late. He will state, “I am not going to sleep until Mom gives me a hug”. Most of the time his plan does not work and he is asleep before Terri gets home.
My favorite moment of all time has touched my heart more than any other. We were eating dinner and I was complaining about my day at school, and renters that would not pay the rent, and about bills I could not pay. While stuffing food in her mouth, Kylee just suddenly stopped. Seven year old Kylee reached over and touched my hand and I gave her a look of why are you interrupting me. She looked at me and my wife and said, “You have made my life”. I stopped and looked at my wife who was already glassy eyed. Kylee with five simple words changed what was important in my life. She taught me that my job is not being a landlord or getting rich. In five little words she changed my attitude, my goals, my passion, my heart and my purpose. People always say what great people we are for what we are doing for these children, but what they give us is much greater. She has taught me in five words that all the good times and the bad times have been leading to this point. With five simple words, “you have made my life”, Kylee has taught me that my most important job is to take care of her and her brother.
Next I would like to share some of the special moments we have had since the adoption. Our first Christmas as a family may have been our most special of all. I have never seen two kids more excited than these two guys and “elf on the shelf”, ruled our house. On their previous Christmas they got only a few presents that had been donated. Their adoptive parents did not get them anything. On Christmas morning there was so much screaming you would have thought the house was on fire. They screamed every time they opened a gift no matter how big or how small.
We now have had Jaylynn and Jesiah going on two years. Their names are now Kylee and Camden. It is amazing how smooth things have gone. I have heard so many horror stories about bad adoptions that I was a little afraid my new children may grow horns after the adoption. They did test their boundaries but we just stayed consistent with our rules and lifestyle. I think they may have acted up to see if all this was real and if we would send them back like all the others.
I always wondered if a person could ever love an adopted child as much as their own biological children. The answer is yes. Jaylynn and Jesiah have stolen mine and Terri’s hearts. Now we have four amazing children to fill all the cracks that had been left in our hearts. When Terri and I decided to adopt Jaylynn and Jesiah we felt we needed to ask Colton (our biological son) if he was okay with this. Colton said, “This time don’t quit, don’t ever quit”.
SENT FROM HEAVEN
JUST LOVE ME
Terri and I closed our home to foster care. Our home grew silent for about three months. One night lying in bed, Terri, with sadness in her heart, said, “I think we have let all the children down”. I believe God has promised us that he would not give us more than we can handle. I guess God decided to step in. Two days later we would get a call that would change our lives forever. Child Protective Services called and asked if we could help. There was a seven year old little girl named Jaylynn and a four year old little boy named Jesiah in trouble. Jesiah was in the hospital and Jaylynn was brought to us.
Jaylynn and Jesiah had been abused in their adoptive home. Their adoption was only one week away from being finalized by the courts. If that date would have come about, these two children’s lives may have been one of torture and possibly death. After school ended in May, the children’s adoptive parents began denying Jaylynn and Jesiah food and water. A gate was put in the hallway to prevent the kids from sneaking into the kitchen to get food or water. They even put alarms on the bathroom doors so that they could not sneak into the bathroom for a drink. Jaylynn said if the alarm went off they would put them in the dark garage with their bare feet. They would force them to hold their arms over their head and if they lowered their arms Amanda (the adoptive mother) would step on their feet. Matt, the adoptive father, would cover their eyes and make them think spiders were crawling on them. There were many days they were kept in the garage all night long in the dark. Jaylynn and Jesiah were often not allowed out of their bedrooms or allowed to play with each other. They were not allowed to talk in the car or at the table. If they followed the rules, they were rewarded with a bottle cap of water. Jaylynn told us a story of how a case worker was at her house and that she was so thirsty she snuck into the kitchen to sneak a drink. Later, Amanda punished her for disobeying her. These two little children lived in fear every day.
You may be wondering why Jaylynn and Jesiah did not tell the case worker what was going on, but a foster child does not know who to trust. They knew the case worker would leave and they would be left alone to suffer the consequences if they told someone. Jaylynn stated the she hated Dad’s day because they had to give Matt, the adoptive father, a T-shirt. When I asked her why, she said, “I did not love him”. It’s amazing that social workers, psychologist, a case worker, and even teachers at school did not have any idea what was going on. I am not sure what the solution is to help these children speak up. I do not blame anyone for what happened to Jaylynn and Jesiah except Matt and Amanda. Even sadder, Jaylynn and Jesiah still think it was their fault they were abused.
OUR LIVES WOULD BE CHANGED FOREVER
I am not even sure over time how many kids came to live in our home. I know it was over fifteen and close to thirty if you count the kids that stayed with us a while to give their foster parents a rest. In our home we heard many stories, some` worse than others. All these stories had the same theme, a theme of broken homes, neglect, or abuse. In every story the child is the helpless victim put in a situation for which they are not to blame. Each story would put a small crack in our hearts. As time passed, we would sometimes hear about horrible things that have happened to the children that came into our lives and we grew to love. I guess the worst thing for me about being a foster parent is my fear of seeing or hearing about one of our children. I want to see them, but hope they would not see me. I would like to think their life is good and that they are happy. Even though I know their pain was not my fault, you cannot help feeling you did not do enough and you let them down. The children I have told you about are just names to you. A foster parent see’s these children’s pain, dried their tears, and have felt their hearts. I always wondered how many times a heart can be broken; I guess me and Terri reached that number. The day we decided to quit was one of our most difficult decisions of our life and was probably one of the worst days of my life.
It seemed like we never had an empty bed in our house. I could not believe how many children needed help in our community. These children would come into our homes with problems I did not even know existed in our town. To see the broken lives of these children and hear their heartbreaking stories at times just overwhelmed us. You could not just hug these children’s problems away. These kids were angry, sad, heartbroken, confused and mostly scared. They were suddenly put into a stranger’s home where they did not know if we were mean or nice. They were wondering if they would ever see their brothers and sisters again or what happened to their parents. Imagine being jerked from everything you know and thrust into that world.
I will just quickly go through some of the kids that have come through our home. Two girls, age nine and thirteen, whose father is a drug addict and a mother serving life in prison. I remember the older girl writing letters to her mother telling her she was just fine and did not need her. There was a nine year old little girl whose mother attempted suicide while she was in the house. There was a fifteen year old runaway who had a baby in the hospital and released with nowhere to go. There were two boys age four and seven that had been starved by their mother. They at some time had been hurt in the bathtub. It took weeks for them to not scream and cry while taking a bath. They had an older sister that had been removed permanently from their home for sexual abuse. We had two girls age five and seven that they found living in a house filled with dog feces. They had very little social skills. It was almost impossible to keep their clothes on and when they got angry they would just urinate on the floor. I do not know if we truly helped these children because most of them just went back into the sad world from which they came from.
Then there was Little Sam (5 years old), he was the last child we would keep. Little Sam’s mother had been murdered by her boyfriend. The boyfriend told Little Sam and his sisters that their mother was just sleeping. The children stayed in the house waiting for momma to wake up. I am not sure how long they stayed in the house until Little Sam finally left the apartment and told the maintenance man he could not wake up his momma.
When Little Sam came to our home he was scared and looked just numb. The one thing I remember about Little Sam was how clean and mature he appeared holding his little suitcase. He was just so quiet for a boy his age. Sam stayed with us for around two months and never did talk much. He would just follow me around and loved to help me work on things. The one thing that puzzled me about Sam was that he never cried for his mother or sisters. He seemed to just keep all of his pain bottled up. Little Sam left us to go live with his aunt and I do not know what became of his little sisters. I often think of Little Sam and pray that he will be okay.
My wife and I knew Little Sam was going to be the last child that we would foster. We were just burned out. I knew it was time to quit. When all the other children left our home it was heartbreaking, but when Little Sam left we were sad, but at the same time felt relief.