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Offering their hearts, their home: Local family shares their experiences as foster-to-adopt parents

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Posted: November 17, 2007 5:37 p.m.
Updated: December 11, 2007 7:16 a.m.
  It was a newspaper article just like this that was the catalyst for Charlie and Angie Howell to become foster parents and eventually adopt their third child.
        A few years ago, they were talking about having another child. They had already had two children — Sara, now 17, and Jimmy, 13. After their second was born, it was suggested that Angie not try and have any more children. As a result, the topic of adoption would occasionally pop up — over dinner, on the weekend, while they were shopping.
But one day, the paper had a story about foster families and adoption.  If someone was interested in pursuing the matter further, the story had a contact number for the Division of Family and Children Services.
        Charlie said he called Angie at the office.
        “Did you see that article about adoption?” he asked.
        “I sure did,” was her reply.
        “Well, you want to call them or what?” he asked.
        “Sure, go ahead and call ‘em,” she responded.
        And the rest, they say, is history.
        As a result of that one phone call, the Howells became foster parents to five children over the next couple of years, eventually adopting one of them.
        “Really, that’s about how simple it was,” said Charlie. “Once you contact DFCS, you don’t have to do much else.”
        Charlie said they were very involved with their church and were looking for ways to be philanthropic, in addition to thinking about expanding their family.
        “We were thinking in terms of ‘How can we do two things at once — have more kids and still help somebody?’” said Charlie. “We want to help children, but we want to keep them, too. Foster parenting and eventually foster-to-adopt was just what we needed.”
First steps of fostering
        Erin Hunter is the foster care supervisor for Bulloch County DFCS. She said the county has legal custody of 38 children — of those 14 for which the court has terminated parental rights and they are in need of an adopted family. With only 20 foster families right now in Bulloch County, Hunter said they’re looking for more volunteers.
        “We’re in desperate need of adoptive parents and families in Bulloch County,” said Hunter. “There’s also a sibling group of three that they’re looking for an adoptive home for.”
        For those interested in becoming foster parents, their first step would be to contact the statewide hotline (877) 210- KIDS. Then, they’re invited to an orientation session in Bulloch County. The training is called IMPACT and they undergo 30 hours of training. There is also a criminal background check, a health screen and a house check — to make sure the potential foster parent has plenty of room, a clean environment, etc.
The heartache of opening
your home
        Often, foster-to-adopt children go back with their birth families, which they both agree is the best thing for the child. DFCS really tries every option they can for the parents and their parents’ families to get things in order. Angie and Charlie both said this is one of the difficult things about being a foster-to-adopt parent.
        “The first child we had, she was nine months when she left — she was already calling us mommy and daddy,” said Angie. “Her grandparents saw her once or twice — they were from out of state — then they came and picked her up and she was just gone. It was a hard separation.”
        “It took a toll on us. We picked her up from the hospital newborn,” Charlie said. “Another way to look at it would be, you had a baby and it passed away at nine months. That’s what it felt like.”
        “It was a hard thing. I said to my husband then, I will never do this again. I felt like this was the closest thing to losing a child that I had known — my heart was just broken.”
        Fortunately, in that situation, the grandparents sent them a follow-up picture and a letter. In the letter, they said the baby was a loving child. The grandparents went on to say the Howells giving the child so much love in the first nine months is why she turned out as she had.
        “We know we did our job and know we made a difference,” said the Howells. “That’s the part that’s hard sometimes. But there is also something there that says ‘you did good.’ You made a difference in a child’s life - and that’s what it’s all about.”
        Ultimately, the Howells decided to go through the process again. Angie described how that transpired.
        “About two months later, [DFCS] called us an said, ‘Angie, we have a baby here that needs fostering’ - and I said I’ll be there,” she said. “I don’t know, I don’t know why. I just did it. My husband was the same way.”
        Billy, the son they adopted, has been with them since he was five days old. They bought him his first outfit. When at two and-a-half he was offered for adoption, the Howells didn’t hesitate.
        “There was no way our kids wanted Billy to leave,” said Angie.
        “Billy still has contact with his birth family — they came to his fifth birthday party,” said Charlie. “Now, he doesn’t understand all that yet. I’m ‘Dad,’ Angie’s ‘Mom’ and Sara and Jimmy are ‘brother and sister.’ He’s just got some extra relatives there.”
A commitment
        Angie said it takes a special person to be able to foster a child.
        “To be able to be a foster parent, you have to be loving and very committed to the child and treat them just like they’re your child,” said Angie. “But you have to know they may not be with you forever, until they’re adults. Also, know that you do not have full authority and that’s kind of hard sometimes.
        “It takes a person who is loving and who can get attached but can also know in their heart that they may not be able to raise that child.”
        Charlie offered to discuss his experiences with the adoption process.
        “Now, anybody that wants to talk to us about it, I’ll tell them anything they want to know. We’ll tell them the ups and down, the good and the bad — and in spite of all that — do it. I’ll promise them it’s worth it. And it is worth it.”
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