Renee Henderson shares her story of Foster Care and Adoption with our listeners.
Hi guys. Today we have Renee Henderson and we are talking about adoption and I have to say since I have moved here to Arizona, I have known Renee pretty much the whole time I’ve been here and she has just been an amazing person that I have watched her family grow and she’s been just an inspiration. Her family has grown and changed and expanded and just watching everything that she’s done here in the neighborhood has just been an inspiration for me. So Renee would you like to tell me about your family and your background?
Renee: 00:38 My name’s Renee and my husband and I, we have been married for this will be 11 years. We currently have three children, a six year old, a five-year-old at a four year old, so very close in age. They’re 13 and 11 months apart. I stay at home with them full time and my husband works in traffic securities and cameras and things like that.
Yeah, you guys have a lot going on with that age group. So close together. I too have close together. But yours is a little closer together then. My, so can you tell me about, the adoption process for yourself? How did that go?
Renee: Yeah. \my husband and I, we knew right when we got married that we wanted to have a family pretty quickly. after a couple of years of marriage, we realized that wasn’t happening. So we started seeking out and fertility treatments and specialists and things like that.
And we just got to the point where we could continue to dump thousands and thousands of dollars into this or we could start to look at other options. So we originally decided to look at foster care specifically to maybe to help kids that were already needing a home while we decided what we wanted to do to build a family forever. I, we knew that adoption through foster care was possible, but we assumed it was pretty unlikely. And so we never kind of put all our eggs in that basket to build a family, but we wanted to be parents and we were ready for that. So we thought that was a great idea while we waited to decide what was next. and so we started the process and then we were licensed to add, it was like 12 o’clock, almost exactly on a Monday. And we picked up our first baby by three o’clock that day.
Speaker 1 02:22 Wow. And he never left. And can you tell me about the licensing process? Yes. So licensing, it varies for everyone. we took, we, we went very slowly. We took about a year to do it. we purposely were kind of unsure when you’d go through the process you have to take at the time it was 10 weeks of three hours a week classes and they kind of throw the worst of the worst case scenarios at you. And so we got through with that, those classes and we were like, you know what, maybe this isn’t for us. We took a little bit of break, and then realized, no, this is ultimately what we wanted to do. And so we, we went back to it. But,you have to do, like I said, the classes, you have background checks, you have multiple interviews, references, home inspections, things like that.
Renee: The average person, it takes about six months to become licensed. Okay. And you said you had to take a couple steps back. What, what made you go, wait a second, I’m not sure if this was for us. It was there like one thing or was it a pain of things? We, there was a couple of classes back to back that we had that were really hard. The first one was like extreme behaviors in children and they talked about things like smearing feces on the walls and physical aggression and runaways and kind of just for, you know, young babies going through withdrawal, like extreme cases of colic type stuff or even worse, like medically fragile. And so that kind of scared us. And then we went into one about reasons kids could be in care and their biological families. And it was a little terrifying to know that we were going to have to have such a close relationship with potentially some scary people.
Renee04:03 and so that was where like, you know, maybe maybe we’re not cut out for this and we just, we realized that no, ultimately this is what direction we felt like our lives were going. Uh, so what was the best part of the fostering process? The best part, I mean of course was getting to adopt our three kiddos. But I would say even better was we adopt or we fostered 15 kiddos over about four and a half years and the times that the system got it right and kids were able to safely go back home and their parents made those changes, those were probably some of my favorites just because there’s a lot that’s not great with the system. And so when it works well, it’s really refreshing and it kinda re encourages you or encourages you to, okay, I can keep doing this, this is worthwhile and this is what we want to do.
Speaker 1 04:54 And what was the hardest part? The hardest? I would say probably co-parenting with parents that you don’t have a lot of the same views on. And then we, which is very common in foster care. We had a parent make false allegations against us. And so we had several from the same parents, same child investigations, and those are really hard to go through. Even though everything comes back, came back on substantiated. It’s still, it’s a lot. They with no notice show up at your home. You, if they’ve searched your whole house, they interview your kids, they have a strip down our kids to diapers to inspect their bodies for any marks, do interviews with them. It’s, they’re very intense and they’re long periods. I think even though ours were very quick in the grand scheme of things, it was still about a three month process of we couldn’t have or have any like changes in our home with kids.
Speaker 1 05:46 And we had open beds that they needed filled and we couldn’t do that until we were cleared. Oh wow. Yeah. And so if you’re, if you want to be a foster parent,would you working have caused a lot of problems? Do you feel like I actually was working when we started, so, we were fine until we took on a third kid. We were also really unusual where at one point we had four kids under the age of two, so whereas we’re very, very close together. But no, I would say when we had to, we were able to balance it relatively well. A lot of foster parents, both, both mom and dad or whoever is working and so it’s not uncommon, but once we started to have more than that and then we had an unexpected child that became medically fragile, there was just no way I could make all those obligations and appointments with holding down a full time job.
Renee Yeah. Yeah. It sounds like, it sounds like that would be just, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Vicki: You speak very openly on a lot of forums and help encourage other other moms. Do you consider yourself a Mentor?
Renee: I, so I was thinking about that and I don’t know that I would consider that like as an official title, but I really try hard to be the person that I wish had come alongside me when I was fostering because once we closed our license I felt like there was so much information I had learned over those years and I didn’t want it to die with me. Like I wanted to be able to help. So we do have a couple friends who \there some we knew in real life and some are just through like Instagram or Facebook who have found me and I’ve helped guide them across that.
Speaker 1 07:26 So I think maybe unofficially, like I’ve had the opportunity to serve on some panels and do other podcasts and things like that. So I wouldn’t say I’m an official mentor, but I’m really tried to, yeah, just be that person I wish I had had when I started. So you didn’t have anyone like holding your hand through this process? Going blindly with faith? I literally started with a Google search. Like everything we just tried to find on our own and try to find our own community and yeah. Yeah. It was, it was rough at first. Yeah. And it does sound like it could be very trying when you don’t know where to go, you don’t know the legal information or even just like resources available to you. Yeah. And there are a ton of resources available, but you have to like find those little pigeon holes. Yes.
Speaker 1 08:14 Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of quality caseworkers or at least they’re so overworked that they don’t have the time to do that. And so, yeah, you just kind of have to learn, know where to look and hopefully get some good friends along the way to tell you where to go. Yeah. I worked with the juvenile court, uh, back in Connecticut, which also dealt a lot with, uh, DCF, which is kind of like CPS here. And, we had a lot of overlap with, uh, DCF and the juvenile court just because unfortunately, uh, kids sometimes fell into both categories that, they needed help. And, uh, it would either be a probation officer and a DCF worker. And trying to get ahold of everybody who was involved was very difficult because, and then there’s foster family and a biological family. I had to, everyone had to be interviewed for this child.
Renee 09:10 And yes, it was very, very difficult. So many people with a hat and a game, like there’s a lot of people. Yeah. And so, and finding the services because there were so many, at least in Connecticut, there were so many services that were available. Um, and so that was part of my job was trying to find the right service for this child. So I actually culminated all the services and I was like, well, okay, a new job title. So it was, it was interesting.
Vicki: so what have been your biggest challenge is as a parent so far?
Renee: The biggest is a lot of the unknown. Like we’re raising children that to varying degrees, we either have some information or nothing at all about their background. And then we also have the challenge of raising children who have longterm, I don’t want to say damage or there’s just things that we have to address for the rest of their life based on the reasons they’re in care.
Renee So whether that be medically speaking or just, um, yeah, the situations they came from a really hard, and those just because they’re adopted didn’t magically disappear. Right. And so, yeah, it’s, you know, sometimes on those hard days it almost feels like you’ve inherited someone else’s mess that you’re now trying to just make the best of. Um, but no, I, yeah, that, that can be very hard is you don’t know everything that that child has been through. Even if you’ve gotten them from birth, you don’t know what that, you know, nine months in utero was like for them.
That’s, that’s very true. You try to get the medical history and it might not be complete know, um, it might not been very truthful, unfortunately. That’s exactly the case. Yeah. So that is difficult. And I know that you’ve shared a lot of the medical issues and yes, it’s always a trial and tribulation to try to even get care now for sometimes waits long waits to get the medical care.
Speaker 1 11:08 Exactly. Yeah. And then just there were certain stuff, like one of our kiddos we didn’t find out until at his adoption that he has five living relatives that are diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia X. And so that was a lot to to accept or not accept, but just to process after the fact that, you know, of course there’s always a chance, but his, his future might be a little, a little different than we had pictured. Yeah. Yeah. But at least, you know, that’s something to look for. I’m glad that we know that now instead of just never knowing that information. Yeah.
So now you can, you can like Google that search and be like, okay, what are the warning signs exactly. We’ll just add that to something to watch for down the road. Yeah, exactly. And what are your biggest wins out of this whole experience? Um, obviously we’ve gotten to adopt three amazing kiddos through it.
Renee: There are still a lot of kiddos that we have relationships with even though they’ve gone home or they’ve gone to relatives. And I just feel like it forever changed our worldview. It was one of those things that I wasn’t, we weren’t somebody that like as soon as we got married we’re like, Oh, we would love to adopt someday or we love to be foster parents. But once you know that information, you can’t kind of ever turn your back on it. I think it really just changed our worldview I never thought going into it that I would have a compassionate heart toward some of their bio parents. Oh, I can’t believe that happened to them. Or they would do that to their child and you just realize there’s a lot more to the story than just what’s on that court document.
Renee: There’s a lot of trauma, a lot from the parents. A lot of multigenerational.
Vicki: I remember when I was working for the juvenile court, I mean it wasn’t just the kids involved there, the parents, you know, it was a very large family. We would get the whole history of the entire family and just huge amounts of, of trauma and years and decades of this person moved here and that person had a relationship with that person. And you know, children just kind of get stuck in this whirlwind of mess and that and hopefully someone is able to pick them out and rescue them, which is what you guys did and hopefully, you know, you’re going to be making a great impact on their lives and, and pushing the river stream down down a different direction.
Renee: They all have other siblings, but for at least their lineage that we can change that cycle. I know for a fact two of our three kiddos bio parents were foster children themselves. Yeah. And so yeah, we’re really hoping that we can at least for these three, change the course of what would have happened.
Vicki: Right, right. Any advice or parents who are going down the road of foster and adoption?
Renee: I would say connect with as many different families and people as you can. You’d be shocked at how much that’ll come into play later on. It’s, while there is a lot of foster parents in Arizona, it’s really, uh, it’s still a small community. One of our kiddos we got, because he was in a home that was not an adoptive placement, they knew pretty early on that was going to be the case.
And that’s the reason we have him. And I was like, Oh, I know them. And they knew that we were looking for to adopt another child. And so that, or just, Oh, you know, I’ve worked with this case worker, why don’t you try this phone number? Or they’re just, there’s so much value in having a community around you. And even then, just for when a kiddo leaves, that’s hard. Even if you have, you know, you’re never wanting to adopt, you only want to foster, you still mourn that loss of we’ve had kiddos that I’ve had the first 18 months of their life and then they leave and it’s, it’s like losing a child. Yeah, absolutely. There’s always lost. There’s always a loss and change because I mean, it’s constant change and yes, and even when you gain a kiddo that could be hard to, absolutely.
Renee 15:03 We have gone to bed without a child and woken up with an additional one. You never know. And I’m sure a balancing act and how to relate to new siblings and interactions between kids. Having that, uh, relationship with other people, especially when you’re new, to try to figure out how do I make this work out would be very beneficial. We had families, some great friends that, whether it was we had an eight year old who was just a really hard kid or that maybe just needed a break from us and they would, Hey, why does he come to the movies with us? Or we have a baby who’s going through withdrawal and they’ve just been screaming for the last 48 hours. Like, Hey, I can take the screaming baby for a few hours. Do you take a break? Get regain your sanity, whatever that is. That’s super important.
Renee Screaming for any amount of time could drive you a little insane as I had 48 hours straight would be a real, a real ear breaker. So at that point I’m just impressed almost. Yeah. I don’t know how they do it. Yeah, that’s, that is hard.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share with our audience?
No, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head.. If nothing else, it’s the, if it’s been on your mind, Arizona’s still has such a need. Just last weekend there was 30 children under the age of five in an office building, but they didn’t have homes for like including newborns. There’s all ages that need it. There’s always a need for teenage parents. And so if it’s something that has been on your mind, a lot of people don’t realize, you don’t have to adopt at any point.
Now, I always tell everybody the goal of foster care is reunification first and foremost. I hesitate for anybody who wants to get it just to adopt because you could have set yourself up for a lot of disappointment, a lot of heartbreak, a lot of heartbreak and you are expected to co-parent and, you know, go through this with those bio families and support that. So that’s always kind of the warning I give. But yeah, it’s, it definitely has changed our lives for the better, you know, even if we had never adopted any children from it, it was, it’s still, I think, going to be a defining thing of our entire life.
Vicki: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here and sharing your story. I appreciate it. So thank you again. Have a great one.