Monday, November 27, 2006

Foster mother shares her story...

Foster care changes the lives of SCV family
Llanos, Connie, LA Daily News, Nov. 25, 2006.

SANTA CLARITA - It's difficult to imagine Christine Hart without her children - her white, nine-seat SUV is constantly filled with the laughter and chatter of her five kids.

"Everyone who knows me knows my children come first," Hart said, as she gazed upon her little ones.

On a recent trip to Santa Clarita Central Park, each of the little Harts ran off to play with their their dad but make frequent trips back to Mom in search of water, Band-aids or even just a hug.
Hart was in her element.

Not too long ago, this kind of life was but a dream for Hart and her husband, Lance. Doctors found she had an undeveloped uterus and would never have children.

"I kept thinking, Why me?" Hart said.

But a chance meeting gave the couple a shot at parenthood and the chance to adopt five children and foster dozens more.

Hart, looking to take her mind off the kids she so badly wanted, joined a local gym years ago. She met a woman there who changed her life.

"I saw this woman at the pool, she had five children, all different ethnicities, and they were all calling her Mom," Hart said.

Hart couldn't contain her curiosity, and a few moments later the woman was telling her about foster care.

Hart had accepted she couldn't have children, so she figured caring for someone else's temporarily, could fill her void.

Growing up in a traditional Filipino family, Hart was always around children. The eldest of five, she helped raise younger brothers and sisters. She even took in and eventually adopted a godson, whom she still visits at least once a year in the Philippines.

Her new friend referred her to a private agency where on her first visit she was handed two photo albums - one pink and one blue - filled with young boys and girls in need of homes. Hart still has trouble understanding how thousands of abandoned and abused boys and girls in the foster-care system can be relegated to color coordinated photo albums.

"I could not believe how these parents, who were given the blessing of having children, would waste their lives," Hart said, tears rolling down her face.

The Harts realized they wanted to give some of these children homes - permanently. But like many other prospective parents, they had some conditions.

They wanted younger children, no older than 5, to rear and mold.

They also wanted either Filipino or white kids, like Hart and her husband of 15 years. Those chances were slim and so the couple agreed to provide foster care to all types of children, then adopt when they found their match.

"Are you sitting down?" the social worker asked Hart. The date was Dec. 5, 1996. There was a baby for the Harts, her name was Alexandra. She was three-quarters Filipino and only 5 months old.

Today Alexandra couldn't bear more resemblance to her adoptive mother. When she's asked who she looks like she promptly answers "my mom."

Foster children continued to pass through the Harts' home. At least 30 children, they said.
Some of the children they wanted to adopt went back to their biological families. Reunification is always the goal in foster care. But letting go wasn't always easy.


"Sometimes even packing their bags was too much for me," Hart said.

A couple of years passed, and one day Hart received a 4-month-old little girl. Dark hair and dark eyes, little Olivia had no family willing to care for her.

Before the Harts finalized her adoption, they learned Olivia had a little brother, Michael. When siblings are in foster care, the goal is to place them in the same home, but you need a willing parent. And the Harts definitely were willing.

Now the Harts had three children, plus the adoptive son in the Philippines.

Their babies grew quickly and the Harts no longer took in foster children. They had their family.
Two years later Hart received another call. Olivia and Michael had another sister. She had been placed in a home before the agency realized that her siblings were with the Harts. The foster family wanted to adopt her but the Harts had priority.

One look at little Ashley closed the deal for the Harts.

The family moved to a larger house. They replenished the supply of baby items as many had been given to friends.

And still another call, this time it was from a hospital where the children's birth mother had had another baby. Still pink, the tiny baby was abandoned by his mother after she gave birth to him six weeks early.

"He was a John Doe," Hart said with tears welling up in her eyes. "He was the size of my arm and I could not let him go."

Christopher, or "Baby" as he is more often called, completed the family.

Hart has contact with the birth mother of the four children. She said she's begged her to consider permanent birth control, which she would pay for.

But she would never turn another baby away.

"How would my children feel if they knew there was another sibling that they had that I didn't take?"

Still the family has its challenges. The children all are asthmatic, a common consequence of exposure to drugs before birth. Three of the five children have been diagnosed with learning disorders.

But the family is tightly knit, traveling the world - to Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, and the Philippines.

Hart has lunch with her school-age children every day. The couple spends the extra money for Catholic school minutes from Hart's job.

Things, she said, have worked out.

"I tell my children, you didn't come from my tummy but you came from my heart. You are the chosen ones."

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