ALLENTOWN — When Marge Rowe, 62, of Allentown began fostering children six and a half years ago, she had no idea it would lead to the adoption of five children.
Rowe had gone through a divorce, she lost a job that she really liked, her four biological children were grown and gone and her mother had Alzheimer’s disease. She was in a dark period in her life, but she saw a light when she looked across the street from her job and saw the Allen County Children Services building.
“It was just a huge time of loss for me. When I got to the other side of that I wanted to do something that mattered and I had a big house and I love kids. I just happened to be working across the street from Children Services. I looked up and I thought, ‘I think I can do this.’ So I took the classes and I think I got my first kids within a few months of being licensed,” said Rowe.
According to Cyndi Scanland, director of Allen County Children Services, the current need for foster parents is at a critical stage due to the recession, the opiate epidemic and the overall complexity of children’s needs having placed an immense burden on the child welfare system and the need for foster homes.
“In calendar year 2017, we had 152 kids that were in placement at one time or another,” said Scanland. “Anybody can do this with training, a single woman, a single man, husband and wife, grandparent. Any individual can do this, it’s about the commitment.”
Rowe has fostered approximately 15 children, and she’s adopted five of them.
The five children Rowe adopted are: Nate Hefner, 16; Zeeke Clark, 14; Genesis Hefner, 13; Zayia Clark, 11, and Gideon Hefner, nine.
Rowe’s biological children support their mother’s decision to adopt.
“They are very supportive, very supportive. I only have one that lives here in town now, and she comes over and takes the kids places,” said Rowe.
Rowe did not change any of her adopted children’s last names when she adopted them and the process of adoption was discussed with the children at length.
“They had a say. We talked about a lot of those things and continuing contact and things like that. They had a big say in it,” said Rowe.
While fostering children, the ultimate goal is for them to be placed back with their birth family.
“The goal for every child is reunification,” said Scanland. “Our foster families are incredible in just recognizing what the long reaching goal for children is. The reunification efforts if that’s possible.”
Rowe’s children maintain contact with their biological mothers, and the families usually meet up on Mother’s Day with them.
“Mother’s Day is kind of a mixed bag of baggage. I mean, their loyalty is to their birth mom. So we try to take them out to eat for Mother’s Day. We used to try to do things at least once a month with the birth families, because each of these kids have other siblings that I don’t have, so that makes it hard, too. We do try and stay in touch with the birth families as best as we can. And that makes Mother’s Day a little more complicated because you want to honor that, because you don’t want the kids to feel guilty about loving their moms. They didn’t ask for any of this. They don’t call me mom, they never have, and I haven’t required that of them. That was one of the reason I didn’t change their name when I adopted them either. Because they were all old enough to know who they were and who their family was. And they know I love them and they love me, but I’ll probably never be their ‘mom,’ which is okay,” said Rowe. “I love them with all my heart.”
Foster families take their foster children to visit with their birth parents and become actively involved in the reunification process, as well.
“Foster parents actually mentor and model appropriate parenting to the birth parents,” said Scanland. “When families get involved with us, one of the primary needs is develop a support system for that family and for that child. Foster families and parents are very much a vital part of that support system.”
Rowe would recommend at least trying the foster parent route to those people that have a love for children.
“If someone has the heart for it and the room for it, I would suggest you at least try. Lima is a wonderful community as far as supporting families in crisis. Fostering, adoption, there are just so many programs out there you can participate in or be a part of that gives you a bit of added support in the process. There’s all kinds of groups. It doesn’t hurt to try. You get paid for your time to take the classes and if it doesn’t work out, you can still support other families that are fostering or adopting,” said Rowe.
The agency provides a structured per diem reimbursement based on the needs of the child.
“But it doesn’t anywhere near cover what the foster parents do for the kids in their home,” said Scanland.
Rowe believes foster parenting saved her.
“I wanted to have a ministry that would have impact and some meaning to it. I have a nice life and I wanted to share that with kids that didn’t. But then, they give so much to me. Just staying active and being involved in their lives and their birth families, it’s been very good for me,” said Rowe.
Even though she has five children in her house these days, Rowe is still a foster parent.
“We had an emergency placement of two little ones, two and three, and we had them for 24 hours. I think we literally cried when we took them back to the agency the next day. So you know there are those connections that you have. You have to be all in, and we’ve had some hard things as far as kids removed that we weren’t sure were going to the best place, but the agency is very supportive and they do the best that they can and you just have to have faith in that system along the way, too. It’s been an interesting ride,” said Rowe. “God is overseeing these connections that you’re making too. That’s been a huge thing along the way.”
Allen County Children Services have 45 foster families licensed in Allen County. The agency has a goal of adding 30 families by 2020.
“With May being Foster Parent Month, we have an annual banquet every year. This year, that banquet is May 17. The theme for the banquet is ‘Drive to 30,’ meaning we want to license 30 new families by the year 2020,” said Scanland.
Rowe’s life has changed immensely with the adoption of her five kids, but she sees the change as good.
“I enjoy it. I’m going to be 63 this year, and most days I don’t feel it. Some days I wake up and look in the mirror and ask myself what I was thinking, but most of the time I really enjoy it. Just teaching them to cook and how to do things and doing things with them. I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom with my biological kids, but I can be with these. It’s just been really nice,” said Rowe. “It is different, it’s so different this time around. I don’t feel the pressure [of being a mother,] I think. I really don’t. I’m older and relaxed. We still have our moments and our days. I’m not perfect, the kids aren’t perfect. But it’s just a different dynamic. I really enjoy it.”
Reach Merri Hanjora at 567-242-0511.