Loving foster kids into Catholic families
Easy to love them
“It’s a calling,” according to three Catholic couples who explained for this article why they care for foster babies. “Who needs sleep, right?” Chris Caruso joked. He is a member of the Pittsburgh Legatus Chapter and the head of the IT department for the PPG paint company. Chris and his wife, Janice, have two adult sons and have fostered 14 babies in the last 10 years. They bring them home from the hospital. “It’s so easy to love these babies as your own,” Chris explained. “We want them to know that there was always someone there who loved them.”
The goal is for the babies to return to their biological parents or relatives if a judge decides it’s in their best interest, otherwise they are placed for adoption. “When we bring them home, they know they are in a different place and that we love them,” Janice said. She makes up a little book with notes and pictures for the adoptive parents, who greatly appreciate it. Those families keep in touch with the Carusos, sometimes inviting them to adoption ceremonies and birthday parties, and recently to a First Communion.
Chris admitted, however, that it can be hard to see babies go back to birth parents where circumstances will be challenging. “It’s about taking care of God’s children and getting them off to the best possible life that we can,” he said. “It’s one thing to be pro-life, but it’s another thing to take action and demonstrate the seriousness of your viewpoint.”
Janice admitted that some aspects of fostering can be hard. “But if God calls you to do something, He gives you the grace to do it,” she said. “We keep praying for them after they leave. Part of being able to let go of them is knowing God will be caring for them.”
Richard and Judy Ames have taken in babies 0-6 months for 25 years, ever since their own three daughters were ages 12, 20, and 25. Richard retired in 2013 from the medical device industry as vice-president of sales and marketing, and they were charter members in 2015 of the Austin Legatus Chapter. They are also board members for the John Paull II Life Center, dedicated to comprehensive health care and pregnancy support for women.
Judy and Richard say they love caring for babies even though it hurts to give them up. Their first foster baby, Faith, was 6 days old, only 4 pounds, and going through cocaine withdrawal. When she was 9 months, the call came that she had a forever family. “We are her forever family,” Judy said and hung up the phone. “We knew she was not ours, but we had no idea we would fall head over heels in love with her,” she said.
It is still hard, but Judy said they are not blindsided by goodbyes anymore. Though there was one that was especially difficult—Charlie, their fifth foster baby. He came at 5 days old and stayed for 14 months. Their daughters (the youngest 15 then), loved him dearly and Judy and Richard wanted to adopt him. Charlies’ parents struggled with drug addictions and also wanted the Ames to adopt him, but his grandparents won custody. “They took him away screaming, and we were crying,” Judy recalled. The Ames kept in touch with the grandparents to stay connected to Charlie. They were invited over for his 2-year-old birthday.
“We thought he would have forgotten us,” Judy said. “but he came up to the door, put his hands up, and said, ‘Mama.’ It broke our hearts thinking we were going to have to leave him again.” However, they received a wonderful surprise that day. The grandmother felt she could not keep him safe and asked if the Ames would adopt him. The Ames were ecstatic. This spring, their 22-year-old son, Charlie, graduated from Texas A & M. “He is a world-class kid,” Judy said.
Some of the babies the Ames have cared for were severely abused. On several occasions, they hired a lawyer to argue against the child being returned to parents or relatives. Sometimes things went as they had hoped and sometimes not.
Still, the love outweighs any pain according to them, and they always continue to pray for the children they cared for. Although they are 68 and 76 now, Richard explained he does not see an end to it until they can’t do it anymore. “I started out just supporting my wife, but things changed,” he said. “I fell so in love with these children that I can’t even talk about it without getting emotional. When I hold and rock and sing to them, I feel I am as close to God as I ever will be on earth.”
“We get to love a child for a little while and perhaps it be a gift that can last a lifetime that the child can go back to in a time of great need,” Judy said. “They are always in our hearts and always in our prayers.
Effects on Biological Children
All three families said they believed strongly that their own children benefited by being a part of the foster experience. Kathy and Ralph Charley of Minot, North Dakota fostered over 50 children in 15 years, accepting them from birth to 4 years old. They had six biological children— including two sets of twins—ages 6 to 18 months when they began. Ralph also had 3 children from another marriage, ages 20, 18, and 13. They would eventually adopt three of their foster babies when the parents lost custody. Their youngest, Leah, an active, bright 12-year-old now, was their last foster baby
Ralph was director of special education for the school district for 30 years and Kathy, a stay-at-home mom, had previously worked with hearingimpaired children and was teaching at Minot State University directing clinical programs.
Their second set of twins were 18 months old and the oldest six years old when Ralph came home for lunch one day after hearing about parents using Walmart bags instead of diapers because they used their money for drugs and alcohol. “Would you be willing to do foster care?” Ralph asked. Without hesitation, Kathy said ‘yes.’
The hardest part for their children, Kathy explained, were the times she said ‘no’ to taking in more when she felt they already had a full house. “The kids always wanted me to say ‘yes’ and would tell me, ‘We’ll be fine,’” she said. “The joy they experienced when they learned we were going to keep our youngest three is beyond description.”
“To have taken care of children who needed love and security was a great privilege for all of us,” Ralph said. “No doubt, it made a lasting impact on our family.”
Kathy credits foster care with influencing their adult children to choose careers in helping professions such as the medical field and special education. “Our children have a level of compassion of which I credit the foster care experience in part. They have a fuller understanding of what is out there and what they can do to be a part of it.”
PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.