Though DeWayne Hill jokingly calls his wife, Elizabeth, a bit of a sucker, she inspired the couple’s calling to become foster parents. DeWayne had considered fostering or adopting, but Elizabeth’s resolve to take in children without stable homes clenched their decision.
“She would do everything in the world for these kids,” he said. “She wants to take in every kid who doesn’t have a home but it’s hard because you can’t.”
The Hills officially began their foster journey, and whirlwind introduction to parenthood, two years ago. They have fostered 15 kids and currently have six foster children in their home. Working with foster and adoption placement agency Anna’s House Foundation, the couple moved to the organization’s foster care community in Luther about a year ago. The community currently includes seven homes, six of which are occupied by foster families with a minimum of five children, with the eighth and final home to be completed this fall.
Since MetroFamily’s 2015 series on Oklahoma foster care, the number of children in state care has dropped from nearly 10,000 to about 8,700, according to Anna’s House Executive Director Katherine Craig. The agency created its community of homes for foster families in 2014; though first intended to keep babies out of shelters, it became clear the community is best suited to keep siblings in care together. According to Craig, as of March 2018, 679 children in traditional Department of Human Services (DHS) and agency-supported care are separated from their siblings.
“It’s not often that people can move four or five kids into their own home,” said Jennifer Holbert, foster home recruiter and trainer for Anna’s House, and a foster and adoptive mom herself. “It’s so traumatic for kids to be removed from their [biological] home, but there is joy and healing when siblings stay together. Maybe they can’t be with their mom or dad, but they can have each other.”
Like the Hills, most of the families in the Luther community are experienced foster parents before making the two-year commitment to live there. Foster parents agree to see children through to permanency, either by returning home or being adopted.
The Hill’s leap of faith to join the community was inspired by their 1-year-old foster child. Moving to the Anna’s House community allowed the Hills to also foster the child’s older siblings, ages 8, 9 and 10. In addition to the sibling group, the Hills currently foster a 3- and 4-year-old.
A community of support
Living in a foster community offers benefits to the Hills, like support groups and frequent access to case workers but it has also been an adjustment.
“It’s a struggle sometimes,” said DeWayne. “We don’t get to go out and hang out with friends much anymore.”
They say it’s worth it to get to love and care for the children who come into their home and they are grateful for the support they receive from Anna’s House and the community. Between Anna’s House and Frontline Church’s partnership with 405 Center, the Hills receive monthly house cleanings, regular lawn care, respite care for monthly date nights and occasional meals.
Elizabeth is a stay-at-home mom to their foster children, while DeWayne is an assembly supervisor for Kimray, working nights. He’s been with the company for five years and has been impressed with Kimray’s commitment to its employees’ families, and his situation in particular.
“My boss has been very flexible with me, allowing me to take off when we have court dates or when the kids get sick,” he said.
Kimray has a program through which employee families can receive help with finances related to adoptions, up to $8,000, which Hill says can be used for adoption fees or attorney fees.
Relying on faith
The Hills began their foster journey with the hope of adopting a child someday, but they also understood they would have to say goodbye to many of the children they cared for when a child is moved home or to another foster home.
“The first one was the hardest; it’s like ripping a Band-Aid,” DeWayne said of letting go of their first foster child. Their first placement was an infant they had for seven months and they formed a special bond with him as they saw him reach some of his first milestones.
“All I can do is trust in God,” DeWayne said. “I hope the kid will be the best he can be with the situation he’s given.”
As the Hills help their foster sibling group move toward permanency, their priority is to keep them connected, whether they remain in a single family home or, if separated, will help ensure they see each other often. DeWayne said finding an adoptive home for four children is especially hard. Maintaining a relationship with the children’s biological grandmother is also critical. The Hills believe an ongoing relationship with a blood relative will provide comfort and clarity as the children get older.
Called to serve
DeWayne said his patience combined with his wife’s loving nature has made them a great foster parent team. Amidst the challenges of learning to care for and discipline children who’ve undergone trauma and simply managing the logistics of having six children, he finds his reward in seeing his foster children express joy and trust in his home.
“When we first got our older sibling group, we could tell they didn’t trust us for the first several months,” he said. “They wouldn’t open up or talk much. Now they will share their whole day and life story. It’s heartwarming.”
As Holbert can attest, keeping siblings together helps their healing process, allowing them to adapt more easily to a foster home. While some sibling groups are large, Craig reports of the 679 children in care separated from siblings, more than half only have one or two siblings, a more manageable number for potential foster families to consider taking in.
The Hills have a special calling to serve large sibling groups, but DeWayne believes everyone in the community has a role to play in serving foster children, noting his gratitude for the volunteers who serve his family and provide respite care.
“It’s just as important to be that family who makes a meal as it is to be that foster family,” said Holbert.
Through serving foster children in large ways and small, Holbert loves witnessing Anna’s House volunteers realize they are simply kids who need someone to love them, in whatever capacity they are able.
“It feels like a huge reward at the end of the day,” DeWayne said, “to look back and see the difference you made in a child’s life.”
Generously sponsored by Kimray, this is part one of a series that will provide stories of OKC foster families. Find more information about the foster care system and how to become a foster parent at www.metrofamilymagazine.com/foster.