It Takes a Village
Written by: Earle Canty
A popular phrase of recent times is “It takes a village”. Pragmatically, that statement does not accurately convey how things really happen. A “village” effort typically does not start as a village effort. It starts because someone has a burden to do something. As that person develops a solution and begins to implement that solution, the village engages with the effort. That is not a bad thing; in many cases, it can be a good thing, because the person with the burden needs help to implement the solution fully.
What is the Relevance?
What is the relevance of this reality to foster care you might be wondering? The answer is that addressing the needs of foster children does not rest solely with the village. The solution requires that individuals or families embrace the idea that they have a responsibility for helping these children, some of whom are true orphans and others who are orphans because their parents are unable to or do not want to be responsible for caring for the child. Regrettably, there are far too few individuals or families willing to take care of a foster child. Individuals, and particularly families, proffer many reasons why they cannot care for a foster child. In addition, horror stories regarding foster care situations get a lot of publicity, which makes it easy to recount and justify them as the primary reason.
Not Your Typical Family
Our family is not the typical family; we have cared for six young people over substantial periods. Our oldest, Desiree’, came as a package deal when Jolyn and I married, and I adopted her when she decided that she wanted me to adopt her. We have two children who are biologically ours, Hannah and Ethan. In 1990, we adopted our oldest son, Samuel, from an orphanage in Romania. We adopted our youngest son, Tim, and the subject of this blog, when we lived in North Idaho. Last, but not least, we were guardians for a young man, Colin, from China who has since reached the age where he no longer requires a guardian. From the time Colin entered our home in 2010, we have always viewed him as one of our children.
Tim was born in Spokane to a woman addicted to drugs. She used drugs during her pregnancy with Tim, and Tim was born with some severe neurological problems. Tim’s brain had not fully formed, and his much larger than normal skull had water where there was no brain tissue. Drug addiction causes people to do unfathomable things; his mother left the hospital and abandoned Tim there.
Enter Joann Henry Nielsen of Hayden Lake, Idaho. Joann, a remarkable woman who was in her sixties at the time, was a very active foster care mom for at risk newborns, and was asked by social services to take Tim while they tried to determine the best care situation. Without hesitation, she went to the hospital, got Tim, and brought him home. Due to his appearance, the neurological issues, and the long-term prospects for Tim provided by the various physicians (that he would never walk or talk), social services was having a very difficult time finding a long-term situation for Tim. At one point, they were prepared to institutionalize Tim. Joann refused to allow them to do that, telling them she would care for Tim until they found a good home and demanding that she approve of the new situation.
During late 1995 and early 1996, we had tried to adopt a girl from China. The Chinese government terminated our eligibility when I was diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia in April of 1996. In late 1996, as social services investigated the various options for Tim, the woman who had worked with us regarding the China adoption approached us about Tim. We agreed to meet Joann and Tim at Lutheran Social Services in Coeur d’Alene, ID. In complete honesty, when we first saw him, I was terrified regarding the prospect of adopting him. I have degrees in biology, and my career was in the medical field, so I had a significant amount of knowledge regarding Tim’s medical condition. Seeing his head and hearing of the anatomical and physiological issues with his brain triggered all kinds of fear in me. Compounding what was visible on the outside, Tim’s physicians were providing dim long-term prospects for Tim; they told us he would never walk or talk. Could we really care for this child? How would it affect our other children? How would it affect our marriage? Truthfully, it was Jolyn’s deep conviction that we are called to care for orphans, my recognition that she was an incredible mother who had a profound love for children, and time in prayer that got me over the hump of what appeared to be Mt. Everest to move forward.
The understanding of the brain has taken a long time to develop. Even today, much is unknown, and the brain represents a great frontier for modern medicine. Tim’s doctors gave us a bleak outlook, probably because they felt that being prepared for the worst was the best strategy, and I cannot fault them. Thankfully, their prospect was wrong. Jolyn poured herself into Tim’s development. She monitored his head circumference each day, but the growth exceeding 1 more centimeter did not occur, and we averted the need to place shunts to help drain the fluid. With lots of stimulus, Tim walked and talked. Having several siblings was probably very beneficial; there was a constant source of stimuli. Miraculously, his brain continued to develop and the tissue that was missing at birth formed.
Lest I leave you with the impression that it was a walk in the park, let me dispel that. Tim had, and continues to have, struggles. Doing things that required multitasking has been very difficult. It took Tim a long time to learn to ride a bike, and he is still not very comfortable doing it. Simultaneously balancing, steering, and pedaling was a great challenge. Skiing was another great challenge for many of the same reasons.
Tim is now in college. He is a big, strong young man who loves people and loves to help people. He is our last launch of the six and may take longer than the others took, but I am convinced that the launch will occur.
Do Hard Things
Permit me to leave you with a couple of thoughts. Each generation tries to leave the next generation with a better situation, but there is a great fallacy regarding a better situation, and consequentially, the next generation thinks that life is supposed to be easier. It is not; life is hard, and we must accept that. We must sometimes do hard things because they are the right things to do, for us, for our families, and for others.
Most of us have more capacity than we believe. We are comfortable with living utilizing a certain amount of our capacity, and we like being comfortable. We need to be willing to get out of our comfort zone to tap into that greater capacity.
Foster care requires that we accept that life is hard.
It is hard for the child and it will be hard for us, but the rewards can be tremendous. Foster care requires that we get outside our capacity comfort zone. The capacity needed is there, we just need to use it to know the rewards that are possible.