Carol Lee, senior editor
In 2017, Children’s Protective Services (CPS) placed three siblings—Genesis (5), Breanna (3), and Angel (7 months)—in foster care with three different families. When foster families are already in short supply, it’s that much harder for caseworkers to find one family that’s licensed, available, and willing to take three young children at once. And when three children have been assigned three caseworkers who don’t always communicate, foster families don’t always get a complete picture.
In 2019, when the children’s case plan changed from reunification to adoption, Genesis and Breanna needed a family with an adoption goal. So they were moved from their temporary foster care placements to Becky and Ryan’s home, where they could be adopted together. About 40 minutes away, Shannon and Lucas—who were already fostering Angel—were open to adoption. But how these children found permanency through foster care adoption wasn’t quite this simple. Foster care rarely is.
This is a story about how two families—that were in no other way connected—opened their homes and their lives to become one family for the sake of three children who needed to stay together.
Becky and Ryan became foster parents intending to adopt through foster care. But they almost changed their minds when their original agency lost their paperwork three times. Even after they were finally licensed in March of 2018, they heard nothing for months. That summer, they took a trip with their two children, suspecting, As soon as we leave, that’s probably when they’ll call. A week after they returned, their phone rang about two children—Genesis and Breanna—who would soon be eligible for adoption. The agency wanted to place them where they could be adopted together after 13 months apart in foster care. Becky and Ryan prayed about adding two children to their family, and they joyfully said yes.
A week later, they got another call. There was a third sibling—baby Angel. Would they consider adopting three?
“We weren’t sure we could do that,” said Becky. Jumping from two children to five, the youngest an infant, would mean big changes. So they asked for more information. “We learned Angel had been in foster care with Shannon and Lucas’ family for a year at that point,” said Becky. “We asked, ‘Has she attached to that family?’ Yes. ‘Does that family want to adopt her?’ Yes.”
If Angel was thriving in Shannon and Lucas’ home, they reasoned, why disrupt that and cause her additional trauma? Becky and Ryan were already thinking about how they could keep Genesis and Breanna connected with their sister.
Meanwhile, Shannon and Lucas had been foster parents for three years, providing temporary care for kids until they could be reunified with their families. When they got the call about Angel in July 2017, her case plan was still reunification. As Shannon understood it, they’d be caring for 7-month-old Angel for about a month.
“I thought, That’s perfect,” said Shannon. “I work at a school, and I had about a month left of summer break. We’d just come home from vacation, and after fostering older kids, I thought a baby would be fun for my girls, who were 13, 10, and 8. Never in a million years did I think we would adopt.”
But things changed, and Angel still needed the safety and stability Shannon and Lucas’ family provided. A year later, when Angel’s case goal changed to adoption, Shannon and Lucas had a big decision to make.
Until the siblings became eligible for adoption, both foster families were taking them to weekly parent visits, which was the only time all three children got to be together. Whether or not the biological parents attended the visits, Becky and Shannon kept the dates open and continued meeting to give the kids a chance to play together. As Becky and Shannon spent more time together, a friendship began to form. They discovered their older kids’ schools played each other in sports, so the families began meeting up at soccer and volleyball games. But Genesis, then 7, was still unsure how this new arrangement was going to work. When the families would get together, he’d ask Shannon about his baby sister: Is she eating? Is she crawling? Two years before, Genesis and his sisters were removed and initially separated in foster care. At 5 years old, he’d been the girls’ protector, shielding his sisters from what was happening at home. So Angel’s safety with Shannon and Lucas was always on his mind. Shannon remembers how he was all business when he visited their home to celebrate Angel’s second birthday. “Genesis wanted to see, ‘Where does she sleep? Where does she play?’” Shannon said. “He’d tell me the correct way to make her bottle.”
When it became clear that the children’s case goal would change from reunification to adoption, both families understood and embraced the reality that they’d be in each other’s lives long term. Becky remembers Shannon’s phone call, seeking language that would help define their unique relationship. “Shannon said, ‘Since we’re going to do life together, are you OK if our kids call us aunt and uncle and call each other cousins?’ My heart melted,” said Becky. “It feels totally normal to hear my kids refer to Aunt Shannon and Uncle Lucas.”
The security of having a community of trusted adults was noticeably apparent for Genesis. “In our photos from Genesis and Breanna’s adoption day last November, he has this look of shock on his face,” said Becky. “And that’s OK, it was an emotional day.”
But the photos from Angel’s adoption day in February this year showed an entirely different emotion. Shannon and Lucas also had Angel baptized that day, and they named Ryan as Angel’s godfather. Angel’s dad, Lucas, took Genesis aside for a man-to-man talk about the importance of family, and he told Genesis, “We’re all together now, Buddy; you’re stuck with us.” He assured Genesis that he didn’t have to be responsible for his sister anymore.
“You can see the difference in his posture and body language,” Becky said. “In every photo from that day, his shoulders are relaxed; he’s beaming. You can see him thinking, We’re all OK.”
Today the three siblings—ages 9, 6, and 3—and the two families get together whenever they can and to celebrate birthdays and holidays. In between, they connect with phone calls and video chats. Since the coronavirus quarantine began, the kids have enjoyed making and sending videos back and forth on their parents’ cell phones.
Not that the path to get here has been entirely smooth—Becky, Ryan, Shannon, and Lucas have pushed through snags, delays, incomplete information, and frustrations when things didn’t happen as they should have. But sharing these challenges—and the celebrations as their stories converged—formed a bond that was thicker than water. And that’s how some of the missing pieces began falling into place.
“When you’re in foster care, you only get information pertaining to the child in your care,” said Lucas. “At Angel’s adoption, we received her full case history—it was a seven-inch binder with a lot of information redacted. When you see that, you think, There’s more to this story. Having this close connection with Becky and Ryan’s family helps us understand Angel’s bigger picture, and as she grows up, she won’t have those big gaps missing from her story because her brother and sister are here, in her life—still part of her family.”
It just makes sense that these three siblings should grow up together, and it took two families—creating one big family—to make that happen.
*Becky and Ryan completed foster care licensing through another agency but went through Bethany for the adoption process.
Q&A with these adoptive parents
Dads, what’s your favorite part of this story to tell?
Lucas: Our lives looked pretty different, parenting older kids. I could sleep in most mornings. Our kids could get themselves breakfast. It never crossed my mind that we’d start over with a baby who cried and needed a bottle. It took a little bit to get back into that infant rhythm, but watching Angel grow reminds me of the milestones we had with our older kids—first words, first steps, learning to ride a bike. And I get to enjoy those “proud dad” moments again.
Ryan: There are reasons why this might never have happened. If Lucas and Shannon had decided not to “start over” with a baby. If we’d given up on our original agency. But we’re here because God brought us here. There’s nothing we’d want to do differently.
What prompted this generous hospitality that opens your home, your family, and your lives to others?
Shannon: One day at the elementary school where I work, CPS came in on a Thursday afternoon and took children directly from the school into foster care. I asked, “Will they be at school tomorrow?” The CPS worker said they were still working out where the kids would sleep that night. I thought, We should be able to do something. I have room in my house, could they have stayed with me for the night? Of course that answer would be no; we weren’t licensed. But those kids never came back to our school. They didn’t get to say goodbye to friends or teachers. That made me so sad, and that’s what brought us into foster care.
Lucas: I had grandparents, aunts, and uncles on both sides of the family who would give anything to help a stranger. My grandparents on one side owned a business helping people who needed things repaired. They’d work with people on payment plans. My grandparents on the other side were involved in child care. Both families were involved in the church. Giving to help others was just part of who they were. Growing up, I saw their example, and I saw how much joy came from helping others. They instilled this value in me—and to the next generation—to take care of anyone who needs help. Ryan: I think hospitality is an impression God puts on your heart. Foster care had never been on my radar, and, to be honest, it took a while for me to see how many kids are growing up without a family. Over time, my heart changed, and I felt that tug that this was something Becky and I could do. This has been a “God thing” to see our two families come together.
Becky: Ryan and I prayed and fasted as we made the decision to become foster parents. When we were frustrated with our original agency, I was ready to call and say, “Take us off your list!” But then a friend called and talked me down. I believe the Holy Spirit prompted that call. I thought, There must be kids out there who need a family. It’s funny how things come together, but we wouldn’t trade this life for the world.