Foster Parents Answer the Call to Care for God’s Precious Children
‘It’s a calling,’ according to the four Catholic couples who spoke with the Register.
Loving children by fostering those whose own parents have lost custody temporarily or permanently is a love that reaches deep into the Gospel. It is to lay down one’s life for the love of another. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 24:41).
The need is great. There are more than 423,000 children in foster care, according to the Administration for Children and Families. Over half have a goal of reunification with family, but that often hinges on a commitment to things like sobriety or attending parenting classes.
Having myself been a foster parent, I can attest that it’s not always easy. My husband and I also ran a group home for delinquent boys for three years and accepted two teenage AIDS orphans from Kenya into our family as our sons. They are both responsible and very successful adults now; one is a doctor, and the other is a former Marine working on his MBA. Everyone loves happy endings, but nothing is guaranteed with foster parenting. Whatever our inconvenience might be, however, the pain is much greater for children without family to rely on.
Home From the Hospital
“It’s a calling,” according to the four Catholic couples who spoke with the Register. “Who needs sleep, right?” Chris Caruso joked. He recently retired as the IT director of a large company. He and his wife, Janice, have two adult sons and have fostered 15 babies in the last 12 years. They bring them home from the hospital. “We want them to know that there was always someone who loved them,” Chris explained.
The babies return to their biological parents or relatives if a judge decides it’s in their best interest; otherwise, they are placed for adoption. “When we bring them home, they know they are in a different place and that we love them,” Janice said. She makes up a little book with notes and pictures for the adoptive parents, who greatly appreciate it. Those families keep in touch with the Carusos, sometimes inviting them to adoption ceremonies, birthday parties and first Communions.
Chris admitted that it can be hard to see babies go back to birth parents where circumstances will be challenging. “It’s about taking care of God’s children and getting them off to the best possible life that we can,” he said. “It’s one thing to be pro-life, but it’s another thing to take action and demonstrate the seriousness of your viewpoint.”
Janice admitted that some aspects can be hard. “But if God calls you to do something, he gives you the grace to do it,” she said. “We keep praying for them after they leave. Part of being able to let go of them is knowing God will be caring for them.”
Joe and Rachel Liffrig from Castle Rock, Colorado, have been married almost seven years. They have an 11-year-old daughter adopted from foster care. Their other children are 5, 2 and 2 months, and they have a 9-month-old foster baby.
“It’s a challenge at times,” Joe admitted. “There’s less one-on-one time, but the trade-off is a new relationship for siblings, compounding the love in the family.”
Regarding the timing of having their own children while also fostering, Rachel pointed out that there’s never going to be an ideal time. Their first placement was an infant from the hospital that was reunited with his family. Rachel described it as “bitter-sweet” since it was hard to let go.
“The biggest comment we get is: ‘I would never do that. I would get too attached,’” Rachel said. “That’s a very real thing, but you have to get attached. These kids need you to get attached. As hard as it is to say goodbye, look at it from a child’s perspective. They just want someone to love them for as long as they can.”
“It’s important to understand where the parents are coming from,” Joe pointed out. “Often, there is generational trauma, and the goal is to help them get on their feet.”
During the challenges, Rachel and Joe both stated that their faith brings them through. “Sometimes we ask ourselves, ‘Why we are doing this?’” Joe admitted. “We keep going back to the Gospel message.”
Tim and Jessica Mattson of Bismarck, North Dakota, have been married for four years and have children ages 3, 2 and 6 months. Jessica is also the sister of Joe Liffrig. They came from a family of nine children. “I was blessed with a nurturing upbringing and felt it was a gift that I wanted to share,” she said.
“I like helping people, and there are a lot of kids out there who need a place to go,” Tim added.
The Mattsons have had two long-term placements and 10 short-term placements that lasted from two days to two weeks. They are expecting a 12-year-old foster boy back into their home after his six-month residential treatment. “No one can prepare you for actually experiencing it,” Tim said. “When a child’s entire life has been trauma, trauma, trauma, we need to understand their behaviors and how to deal with them.”
Although the Mattson’s are planning to accept the 12-year-old back, their plan is to otherwise limit future placements to just infants. “It feels like that’s what our life is more set up for right now,” Jessica said.
Are there safety concerns with an older child in the home? “No,” Jessica said. “We always kept them in sight and earshot. In the end, it seems like their ability to interact with each other has benefited everyone.”
“Being a foster parent has been a real growing experience; not necessarily easy, but positive,” according to her. “It’s not for everyone, but everyone should consider if God is calling them to it.”
Richard and Judy Ames of Austin, Texas, have taken in babies 0-6 months for 27 years, ever since their own three daughters were ages 12, 20 and 25. They are also members of the board of directors of the John Paul II Life Center, which is dedicated to natural holistic woman's health care and pregnancy support for women.
Judy and Richard say they love caring for babies even though their hearts are broken when they leave. “There was one that was especially difficult — Charlie,” Judy explained. “He was our fifth foster baby and joined their family at 5 days old and stayed for 14 months. Our daughters (the youngest 15 then), loved him dearly, and we hoped to adopt him.”
Charlies’ parents struggled with drug addictions and also wanted the Ames to adopt him, but his grandparents won custody. “They took him away screaming, and we all wept,” Judy recalled. The Ames kept in touch with Charlie's grandparents to stay connected to him. They were invited to visit him on his second birthday.
“We thought he would have forgotten us,” Judy said, “but he came up to the door, put his hands up, and said, ‘Mama.’ It broke our hearts thinking we would have to leave him again in just two days.” However, they received a wonderful surprise that day. Charlie's grandmother felt she could not keep him safe and asked if the Ames would adopt him. They were ecstatic. Charlie is now 25 years old, graduated from Texas A&M in 2018, married his college sweetheart last year, and is currently in graduate school. “He is a wonderful, compassionate, faith-filled young man,” Judy said. “Charlie says he is a one-issue voter. That issue is abortion. He will always vote pro-life because his birthmother chose life for him.”
Some of the babies the Ames have cared for were severely abused. They have intervened legally on several occasions, against the child being returned to parents or relatives in unsafe or unhealthy situations. Sometimes things went as they had hoped and sometimes not.
“Still, the joy of loving them definitely outweighs the pain of losing them,” Judy said. “We thank God for trusting us with their care and for loving them through us.”
Although they are 70 and 78 now, Richard explained he does not see an end to their fostering until they can’t do it anymore. “I started out just supporting my wife, but things changed,” he said. “I fell so in love with these children that I can’t even talk about it without getting emotional. When I hold and rock and sing to them, I feel I am as close to God as I ever will be on earth.”
“We get to love a child for a little while and pray that the love we give will become part of who they are, that they may draw on that love when life gets hard for them.” Judy said. “They are always in our hearts and always in our prayers.”