Pack up whatever belongings might exist, crawl in the car with the Department of Human Services worker, wave goodbye to the latest guardian and quietly ride to the next house that will be considered home for however long that might last.
This is the life of so many children in Oklahoma custody that are bouncing around the foster care system. They are all ages and many have siblings that may or may not get to travel between the temporary homes together.
Several families in Tulsa and the surrounding areas choose to foster children, not knowing if these children will eventually go back to their biological parents or be adopted by another family or even eventually call foster mom just mom.
Local couple, Trace and Stephanie, decided to open their home to foster children 10 years ago after they had spent several years unsuccessfully trying to start a family. Their original plan of inviting one child into their home was soon changed despite their initial reservations.
"They called and said can you take these two boys and, of course, my first comment was, 'I told you one,'" Trace said. "The worker talked us into taking the boys because they had been in the system for several years and had bounced around nine or 10 different foster homes. Parental rights had already been terminated so they didn't have anyone to go back to."
Brothers 4-year-old Ben and 2-year-old Tom came into Trace and Stephanie's home and fit in from the start. Biological brothers, they had been through a lot together but seemed to adjust nicely to their new foster parents. The brothers had a sister, Jessica, who had been separated from the duo and was living in a foster home nearly two hours away.
While the children weren't adopted yet, Trace and Stephanie couldn't stand that the sibling group had to spend so much time apart. Visitations soon led to Jessica moving in with her brothers to complete the trio even though her therapeutic foster mom at the time had a great impact in her life and played a role in who Jessica is becoming to this day.
"I know people just want one and worry about sibling groups but what we've found over the years is that these kids, their bond is so strong and they really do support each other," Stephanie said. "Those boys were so close, they needed each other and you can't separate that."
On a date in June, set by the court, Trace and Stephanie gave Jessica, Ben and Tom a permanent home full of love and a commitment that they weren't leaving, no matter what. To reinforce the bond formed in the hearts of the new parents, the date happened to fall on their 10th wedding anniversary.
An incredible foster and adoption experience led Stephanie to become a stay-at-home mom and inspired the couple to foster more children while raising their own. Bearing the joy and the heartache of inviting children in and caring for them, then watching them be reunited with biological parents or other guardians lasted for about 5 more years.
Finally, an infant with some major medical problems entered their home. At 3 months old, Anna was underweight, failing to thrive and severely ill; requiring a feeding tube and constant supervision, Anna would have needs that the first three didn't.
"Her story is really cool," Stephanie said. "All of them are, but she was not supposed to walk or talk or do anything for that matter. She was essentially brain dead when we got her from the hospital."
Developing extraordinarily late, Anna took her first steps at 20 months and was able to experience life without a feeding tube by the age of 2. Trace and Stephanie remained foster parents and were unsure if they would be given the opportunity to adopt her.
After years of providing Anna with all the love and medical attention available, Stephanie and Trace officially adopted her just after she turned 3.
"(We) did not plan on having three, certainly not four," Stephanie said. "But we were kind of hooked, we loved the kids."
Foster care is a terrific gift to give children that are looking for some stability but adopting out of foster care gives that assurance of permanence and unconditional love and acceptance. Adopting a child in the state's care comes with benefits including counseling and financial assistance.
Trace and Stephanie made the decision to save Jessica, Ben and Tom from a traumatic emotional rollercoaster of unending foster homes and uncertainties. They sacrificed and put aside personal needs to nurse a gravely ill child back to a full functioning, walking, talking and occasionally spunky little girl.
"There are so many kids out there in the system and they need some place to go and 99 percent of these kids, if you put them in a good situation and give them a lot of support and love, they are normal kids," Trace said. "They'll behave like normal kids, they'll do the things that normal kids do that you don't like and they'll do the things that you love. There's nothing wrong with them and they just need someone to give them love and support and guide them through life. If someone is a person that can do that, they'll love it."
Jessica, Ben, Tom and Anna, now respectively 16, 15, 13 and 8, still deal with the scars of their past but have two parents that are willing to walk through the trials and tribulations of life with them. Children all over the state are looking for caring adults like Trace and Stephanie, just two individuals wanting a family and willing to sacrifice and love to accomplish it.
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