March 2001 remains forever fixed in the hearts and minds of Doris and John. They mark that as the date that Doris began her mission and John became her helpmate not only in marriage but in her calling to care for Connecticut foster children. That was the month they became licensed foster parents. Doris is a big believer in the power of prayer and knows that God led her and John to fostering over 33 children during the past 9 years. She recalls a time when she and John were still dating and attended a church service together. An evangelist was speaking that day. He walked right up to Doris and said, “Children, children, children!” At the time, Doris recalls, “I thought he meant I was going to have a lot of children. I was already 36 and thought really?” She recalls his words as being prophetic. “I think back and it’s always been about kids for me. Not too many people can say they are doing what they love, what they are meant to do. I’m lucky enough to be able to say that.”
Doris says she always wanted to be a foster parent and John has always been big on giving back to the community. In 2000 John noticed that DCF was looking for foster parents. He asked Doris if she’d like to attend the Open House. Doris jumped at the opportunity. As a teenager Doris worked with emotionally disturbed children and found she loved it. She went to college for her teaching degree in special education. For a short time she worked as a special ed teacher but found the paperwork and testing required took her away from the kids too much – and the kids were what she loved. Foster parenting simply brought her back to a niche she always knew was perfect for her. And John – he loves his wife and clearly wants to support her. He tells anyone who will listen that foster parenting is his wife’s calling and, “I am her support.” But he is far more than that. According to Doris, “He is a mush. He does not take a lot of credit but I could not do this without him. He falls in love with the kids very quickly. John’s heart breaks constantly. He’d adopt them all if he could.” John also spends quality time with the kids. He gets the kids involved with sports and his newest hobby – classic cars. He plays bass guitar at his church and encourages the kids to develop a love of music.
Over the last nine years, Doris and John have adopted 3 of the children they fostered. Nick, age 8, Stacy, age 5, and Sabrina, age 3 are full biological siblings. Nick was placed with the the family when he was a baby. The girls were each placed shortly after their births. Doris and John asked DCF to inform them if any siblings of Nick’s ever needed a home. They feel strongly that siblings should be kept together if possible and they had room in their hearts and their home for the girls so their family continued to grow. Both girls have been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the family knows that there will be many challenges ahead for them but they are clear that as a family they will not only get through them – they will continue to flourish.
This family relies on their strong faith to support them in their commitment to foster parenting. “We could not do this without God,” says Doris. “When we get a phone call about a child I get the details from the matcher and call John. We decide together whether this child should be placed in our home. If we say yes, then we pray together before the child arrives and afterwards too. We bring the kids to church to be prayed over. I can’t do this without His help.” Both parents believe their foster care experiences have only helped their faith to grow stronger.
Doris and John care for very young medically complex infants and toddlers for the most part. They have cared for babies with multiple broken bones and head injuries as well as drug addicted infants over the years. Every so often they will have an older child placed with them. One little boy in particular had a profound impact on Doris. He was 5 years old and was only staying overnight. The hotline asked them to take him as an emergency placement during the wee hours of the morning. This “little man” as Doris refers to him, was dropped off at 4 a.m. He was bone tired and his clothes were filthy. He went immediately to bed and slept til 2 p.m. Meanwhile Doris washed his clothes three times before the wash water stopped turning black. Doris noticed that his birthday had just passed. When he awakened she asked him if he had celebrated. He indicated that he had not. “I told him we’d fix that,” she said. “We went grocery shopping and bought cake fixings among other things. Every time I placed something in the cart he asked if we could get two more of the same item. You see, he had two younger siblings that he took care of and he wanted to bring the food to them.” The younger siblings were at a Safe Home and the young man in her care would be joining them that evening. Later, when the worker arrived to transport him to the Safe Home, the little man tried to bring his dinner plate with the leftover food on it with him. Doris says, “He was such a little man, such a protector. He had an open wound behind his ear and cigarette burns on his back. Short as his stay was, he had the largest impact on me. You know, I always have extra clothes in lots of sizes on hand since then.”
The family has a wall in their home with photos of every child they’ve ever cared for. The first child placed with them is now 10 years old and living successfully with his birthmother. Doris spoke with her just the other day. “She said she always wants him to know we were a part of his life.” Doris expressed admiration for the mom stating it took a lot to tell him the truth about his history.
Keeping in touch with birthparents is another thing this family does well. Doris keeps in touch with at least 5 families as well as a few adoptive families. “Kids love their parents,” she says. “You can’t disregard that – ever. You need to be respectful of the parents or you risk losing the respect of the kids.” She appears thoughtful as she comments, “I try not to judge. Thank God I don’t have to go down the road their parents are on. I think – there but for the grace of God go I.” Apparently this mindset must work well since she’s even had parents ask her to adopt their kids if they cannot regain custody of them.
Doris and John clearly love their lives as foster parents. Doris describes the experience, smiling, “Never a dull moment! How could you live without it? It’s been such a blessing. That’s what makes life so exciting – an awesome, awesome experience!”
written by Deb Kelleher for Annie C Courtney Foundation, Inc. – All rights reserved.
**Update: In October 2010, Doris and John were awarded a 2010 Angels in Adoption award after being nominated to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute by Representative Christopher Murphy (CT). Doris traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the award on behalf of herself and her husband. John stayed behind to care for their kids.