“I try to live a life that helps others,” explained Rebecca, managing attorney of a statewide nonprofit that advocates for people with disabilities. “I can’t affect as many lives as she did, but even if I made a difference in the life of one child, that would be good.”
In 2013, she made the leap. With three sons already, she applied to be a foster parent to a baby girl. But the baby had a brother. So Rebecca and her husband Robert, of Toms River, took in both children, not wanting them to be separated. In the eight years since, the couple has taken in four more siblings from the same family. Altogether, they now have 10 children, ages 8 to 30, eight who live with them.
Stabilizing foster placements
It all makes for one very crowded, chaotic house.
That’s why in 2019, Rebecca reached out to Catholic Charities for assistance. Catholic Charities offers an In-Home Foster Care Support program designed to stabilize the placement of at-risk children in the foster care system in Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties and minimize moves that can threaten their emotional wellbeing and cause further trauma. Catholic Charities also has a Family Growth Program in Monmouth County that offers specialized counseling for children recovering from trauma, abuse and neglect.
Through both programs, Rebecca and Robert were able to get the children the help they needed.
“The four children that came to us most recently came with histories and impairments that were beyond our control and that I needed training to address. They had experienced the sudden, traumatic loss of their biological father. They had been living in poor conditions. And in moving here, they had to switch to a new school district and make new friends,” Rebecca said of the four additional siblings, who were 11 to 17 when they joined her family in 2019 and 2020. “Catholic Charities helped them cope with the trauma of their father’s death and address all of these other overwhelming changes.”
Her biological sons, meanwhile, had to adjust too.
Strengthening children for life
“That has been a bit of a challenge because one of my sons lost his bedroom – he’s 17 and understandably, didn’t want to share a room with an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old. So now he has a futon in the basement, and we’re building an addition on our house,” Rebecca said.
Because childhood trauma can have lifelong impact, helping children overcome childhood challenges is critical to their long-term health and stability, said Cindy Lallier, a clinician and coordinator for the In-Home Foster Care Support Program.
The quarantine and community shutdowns necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic posed new challenges. Imagine working and schooling from home when there are 10 people living under one roof. “The kids are not supposed to do school on their beds, so it’s been a real challenge to find quiet spaces for everyone away from each other,” Rebecca said. “I have to work at the same table as the smaller children to make sure they stay on task.”
Adding six foster children to a family of six creates a new normal that often feels like, as Rebecca puts it, “a rollercoaster that you can’t get off.” That’s why Rebecca especially appreciates Lallier’s guidance not only with parenting challenges, but also self-care and the importance of alone time as a couple.
“We can’t give what we don’t have. It’s so important that we take the time to care for ourselves, so we can continue to care for and support others,” Lallier said.
Since 2013, the blended family is becoming more permanent: Rebecca and Robert adopted the two youngest siblings and now have kinship legal guardianship of two teenage siblings. Another has since turned 18 but still lives with them.
Despite the heightened hubbub her expanded family has created, Rebecca wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s why we’re putting the addition on our home – because that’s how permanent I see this. I see these kids being with us for years. I hope we are helping them to grow into stable adults who can have a happy family and a happy life,” Rebecca said. “Over 20 years ago, when I found out I was expecting my second child, I asked a friend if it was possible to love the second child as much as the first. They said, ‘Love is boundless.’ Here I am, 10 kids later, and I can truly say, ‘yes, love is boundless.’”
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FOR INFORMATION about the In-Home Foster Care Program, call Supervisor Cindy Lallier at (609) 394-5157. For information about Catholic Charities, contact Dana DiFilippo, communications, at [email protected] or (215) 756-6277.
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