JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHRDSON, Alaska - In honor of the month of the military child and National Military Children's Day, I want to share a story of my family’s recent experience with the strength and resilience that comes with being a military child.
Last year, my wife Amber and I embarked on a journey to become a licensed foster care resource for children in need in Alaska.
I didn’t grow up in the best circumstances, so becoming a foster parent has always been something I wanted to pursue. I wanted to give children in a similar situation everything I never had, because a child’s shoulders aren’t meant to bear the weight of adults’ poor decisions. I just didn’t think military life aligned with becoming a foster parent.
After watching a movie about an inspirational story of foster care and adoption with my family, Amber and I decided to start researching how we could become a foster care resource. We quickly learned it was possible, and started completing the training and administrative requirements to apply.
At the time, we had two children of our own and a third on the way, but still felt we could help. We submitted the application noting we were willing and able to take on one child, or two if they were siblings, between ages 6 and 12.
We received our foster care license in June 2021, and anxiously awaited our first call from Alaska’s Office of Child Services (OCS) requesting placement of a child in our home. Summer passed without a need for us, but in September 2021 we received a call that would forever change our lives.
Alaska’s OCS was looking for a respite care placement for three brothers under the age of five. Respite care refers to a temporary placement for children in foster care to allow the current foster family to have a short break in care.
We were initially concerned about our ability to care for three additional children, but Alaska’s Office of Child Services told us there wasn’t another family in the area available to care for the boys during the 18 day respite care period. Amber and I looked at each other, and without hesitation told the caseworker, “Bring them to us, we’ll make it work.”
We welcomed the boys with open arms, ready to provide them with love and stability for the next two and a half weeks, but we quickly noticed signs and behaviors that lead us to question the children’s welfare with their foster family.
Each boy brought only a tiny suitcase with a few days of worn out clothing, and it was clear to Amber and myself they hadn’t received the care, guidance and love of a parent.
The boys consistently made passing comments about their treatment and living conditions with their current family. Our time with them was ending, but Amber and I knew we couldn’t ignore our concerns, so we reached out to their case manager.
Not long after, we were asked to continue caring for the children in a more permanent capacity. It was a no brainer for us. Even after such a short amount of time, we’d already developed a bond.
The transition to long term care of the boys had its challenges; after all, we had doubled the number of kids in the house overnight. We weren’t sure how we would do it, but I couldn’t turn a blind eye to the situation and leave the boys at the mercy of the foster care system.
It took some time and a healthy amount of patience, but we finally realized we needed to meet them where they were and guide them step-by-step, ensuring they understood they were safe with us.
Our children had to adjust to the boys and the new family dynamic just as much as the boys had to adjust to a change in their environment, but I knew we’d all pull through it together. In December, almost three months after we brought them into our home, Amber and I knew our family would never be the same. While recording a video for her grandpa, our 7-year-old daughter, our eldest, referred to the boys as her “brothers” for the first time, a moment I’ll cherish forever.
It was around that time, with the family settling in to our new normal, that I learned I would be PCSing, moving to a new duty station, the following summer, about one year sooner than I anticipated. While excited for a career enhancing opportunity, I wondered what this move would mean to the boys, worried they would lose all the progress they made when placed with a new foster family.
Amber and I wanted to do whatever it took to keep the boys in our custody. They were part of the Elders Clan now. We wanted to adopt them, but there wasn’t enough time to complete the requirements prior to our move.
We asked OCS if we could become the legal guardians for the boys. Not only did their case manager agree that was the best option, but also worked to expedite the process of assigning Amber and myself as legal guardians for the three boys indefinitely.
Our family, almost doubling in size overnight, fills me with joy every single day. Watching the boys learn, develop and grow, while seeing the compassion and acceptance of our biological children, fills me with pride.
Six kids under seven can make for a chaotic household sometimes, but the smiles and laughter from building blanket forts and riding bikes makes it all worth it.
And, at the end of the day, if I can take a child out of a situation like the one I grew up in, and give them the love, care and resources to overcome their past, that’s how I’ll serve my community. The Army community has given me so much, I know without a doubt the boys will grow up to be strong, resilient and selfless, just like all the other military kids across the world.
Today, as our family begins planning for the upcoming move and the start of a new chapter in our lives, Amber and I want to officially welcome our “bonus boys” into the fold as the newest members of the Military Child Community.
** It should be noted that, for legal purposes, some names and details are not mentioned in this article to respect the privacy of children and other parties.**