When Trey, Trenton, Mikey, and Jenelle came into foster care, their plan was to return home to their families. Reunification is almost always the initial plan when a child enters care. Adoption may eventually become the plan, but not until the team has made all efforts at reunification first.
When Jeff and Autumn became foster parents for the Department of Child Services (DCS), they knew they would adopt if they had the chance. “We were in our 30s and we were ready to parent,” recalls Autumn. “Five was our maximum age, and of course our first placement, Trey and Trenton, were 6.5 and 4,” she laughs.
Jeff and Autumn were eager to welcome the boys into their home. Despite their young age, the boys had already been in 3 separate placements since entering care. Trey, who is now 10, says, “I was a little nervous because I was moving to a new family once again. It was scary because I had to move a lot and I didn’t want to move again.”
Jeff and Autumn didn’t want the boys to move again, either. The parents say it was difficult to live with the uncertainty of foster care—not knowing if the child you care for will be with you forever. “It’s not for everybody,” Autumn says, “You open up your house and life. You open yourself up to so much!”
But the family would not have changed anything about their path. They found an amazing support system in their DCS office, especially with a worker named Tammy, who is still in their lives to this day. Tammy was not the Family Case Manager for any of Jeff and Autumn’s children, but Tammy was honest and realistic with the family. She taught them that it was not easy to parent children who have experienced trauma, but she helped them find the tools they needed to be good at it.
“They are successful because they roll with it, seek out services for children when they’re struggling, and prioritize the kids,” Tammy says.
When the plan for Trey and Trenton changed to adoption, Jeff and Autumn were ecstatic. Nine days after the adoption was finalized, the family celebrated with a mini vacation trip. As soon as they arrived, they got a call from DCS about Jenelle and Mikey.
Jeff remembers saying to Autumn, “You want these two, don’t you?” Autumn and Jeff could not bear the thought of the siblings having to be split if a foster family couldn’t take in both of them that night. Jeff laughs remembering how quickly he hopped in the car to make the 3-hour drive back home to pick them up.
At the time, the plan for Jenelle was already adoption, but Mikey’s plan was to be reunified. Aft er a long road, adoption was determined to be the best plan for all, and the family of four became a family of six.
Not every child in Autumn and Jeff ’s care became eligible for adoption, though. They fostered a girl who returned home and they still miss her every day. Jeff says, “I felt hollow when she went home, but I’m beaming at how proud I am of her father for maintaining sobriety. And I hope she turns out to be sweet and understanding. I hope that she takes the unconditional love we gave her and carries it through her life. Th e sweetness and love she exudes. We had something to do with that.”
Even as he was celebrating his daughter being able to return home safely, Jeff admits that he experienced a deep feeling of loss. “When they leave, it’s like a death,” he says, “How do you get through? Honestly, foster another child. We felt so lost because we were used to having another person in our home. Having new life helps the healing process.”
Autumn and Jeff say fostering helped them feel like “Superparents.” Jeff says, “If you can track it through and see the benefits of giving a child a sense of wholeness and wellbeing and a foundation, it outweighs any malarkey or inconvenience.”
The couple’s advice to potential foster or adoptive parents is to “take everything you’ve ever learned about parenting and turn it upside down on its head. Don’t take things personally. Trust your gut. Trust that you’re making the right decision.”
“I tell families ‘Going home happens,’” says Autumn, “but your forever child is out there. In the meantime, help heal their hearts.” Jeff nods his head, “You’re there to help that child.”