Handled with Care
Fostering Medically Fragile Children
The Rileys of Indiana have a very special gift that they share with medically fragile and disabled children. They open their hearts and home to severely disabled children and make them part of their family immediately. Terry and Joe have been foster parents through KidsPeace since 2003. They currently have one son whom they have adopted and three more they would like to adopt when their parental rights have been terminated. They have fostered a total of eight children and provided respite care for many others over the years.
The Rileys had a disabled daughter who passed away at age 18. They wanted to put their specialized experience to good use, so decided to take in foster children with special medical and mental needs. Their home is nurturing and open and very welcoming to the children and to the professionals who visit to provide care. The Rileys even added a new master suite onto their home that contains their own bedroom and a handicapped bedroom and bathroom where the children can be more easily cared for and are close by if they need immediate attention.
Terry works as a home healthcare nurse during the day, and her husband Joe is retired and stays home with the children. He loves his boys very much and is a caring, nurturing individual enjoys “spoiling” the children. Their home sits on a large piece of property, and Joe takes his boys for rides in his golf cart to get fresh air and see some different landscape. Terry and Joe take their children camping, to parks, shopping, trick or treating and to the zoo. They want the boys to have the opportunity to have fun like any other children, and they have a very large, supportive extended family that helps them tremendously when needed. Their youngest daughter still lives at home, but the older children, grandchildren, aunts and uncles and grandmother live nearby and love the children completely.
Three of the boys are in wheelchairs, and there are feeding tubes and trachs to be cleaned and kept open. Nurses and physical and occupational therapists visit the home daily, and KidsPeace case workers also make regular visits to check on the children’s welfare. Three of the boys go to school with their nurses on weekdays. Terry and Joe have received specialized training on each child from the hospitals from which the referral came. They would visit the children in the hospital and learn how to do whatever was needed for each child before they took them home.
It is difficult to hear the stories of these children. The foster child they adopted is 11 and has seizures and a metabolic disease; he is wheelchair bound and will never talk, but he “speaks with his eyes.” The next youngest accidentally shot himself in the head when he was four, and, at 7 is just learning to crawl and talk again; he will be the next to be adopted. Their 3 year old was born prematurely and the Rileys have taught him to eat without his feeding tube and breathe without his trach tube; he is likely to catch up and be independent one day. The youngest of their foster sons was born with a rare fatal genetic disorder; he has no arms (his hands are connected to his shoulders), a double cleft pallet, a feeding tube, a trach, a pace maker and club feet. He lay in a hospital for 9 months, but the Rileys decided to bring him into their home where “he can die in my arms instead of a hospital bed,” according to Terry. Joe calls them all “my perfect boys.”
The boys all light up when Terry arrives home from work, making as much noise as possible to get her attention. She holds each like a baby on her lap, even though the oldest is almost as big as she is. When asked what drives them, Terry answers, “Any child who needs a home, any child who needs love. I have seen children in nursing homes for long periods of time where they never get kissed or told they are loved. Joe and I want to love as many of these wonderful children as possible.”
The Rileys allow birth parents to have visitations with their children in their home so they do not risk the children’s health by taking them outside. The Riley home is described as being filled with love not only for the children but also for the nurses and therapists and caseworkers who help with the children’s services and care
Terry also says that the staff of the KidsPeace Muncie, Indiana, Foster Care office provide her with excellent support and assistance. She saw an ad for KidsPeace, and something about it attracted her, and she has been associated with the office since 2003. “They are always there if we need to call them with a question or problem,” Terry explains. “They know I am there for the children and have even called me at midnight to take a ride to pick up a child who needed immediate care. I cannot stand to see any child considered a ‘throw away’ kid. They all need and deserve love.”
Program Manager Jodi Reinke and Caseworker Anne Cummings are the KidsPeace staff members who have worked most closely with the Rileys, and they describe the couple as extraordinary because of their specialty training and willingness to take in children who need very specific levels of care. “There is nothing too big for them” says Anne. “They know how to access services in the community and roll with the punches as things change in the system.” Jodi describes Joe as very nurturing and the one who schedules and takes the boys to appointments during the day. “Nothing phases him, and the two of them are totally comfortable dealing with kids with severe needs and disabilities.”
*Names changed to protect privacy
There are many children available for foster care and adoption with and without special needs. If you would like more information on what it takes to become a foster parent and how to contact KidsPeace, please call 866-454-3773 or visit www.fostercare.com.