In Celebration of Foster Families

May is National Foster Care Month! In celebration, we bring you two stories — the first from the Larson family, whose a little girl overcame the challenges of early malnutrition while in the loving care of her foster family in Vietnam. In the second story, Holt adoptive mom Debbie Dunham shares how foster families serve as a “bridge of love” to children awaiting adoption in Korea. Enjoy!

A Home Full of Love for Sophie

by Linda and Steve Larson

When we were in the process of adopting our second daughter, Sophie Lan, we learned that she had been in both the orphanage and a couple different foster families.  The last one she was with, in our eyes, made such a difference in shaping Sophie’s future and who she is today.

It was February 4, 2001 – the day we were to go to the Danang Rehabilitation Center for Malnourished Orphans to see and hold our Sophie for the first time.  It was an amazing feeling to see this little girl of 21 months old for the first time.  We were able to hold her and introduce her to her new big sister, Sadie.  We also got to feed her and try to get her to drink some water.  She looked at us with those big, deep brown and curious eyes…very seriously…afraid to crack a smile…afraid of what was going to change in her life…again.  We had to leave her there that day and come back the next for the adoption ceremony at the Department of Justice.  It was so very hard to say goodbye – even if just for a day.

Sophie with her foster parents during their reunion visit in 2008.

During our time in Vietnam, we were fortunate to have our Holt representative take us to meet our daughter’s foster family.  As we approached the front door and took off our shoes, they respectfully invited us into their home with such kindness.  The look in the mother, the father and the son’s eyes told us that their home was filled with love. This was the home where our daughter Sophie learned to be a fun-loving girl with the personality of a comedian. Here, she also overcame many of the challenges and delays she developed in early life.

When Sophie came into care, she was seriously malnourished and had iron-deficiency anemia. She was smaller in size than others her age, had moderate motor skill delays and could not sit unsupported. She could not bear her body weight on her legs. Her language skills were also delayed.

When Sophie came into care, she was seriously malnourished and had iron-deficiency anemia. She was smaller in size than others her age, had moderate motor skill delays, and could not sit unsupported. She could not bear her body weight on her legs. Her language skills were also delayed.

In her foster family’s care, Sophie thrived. They fed her at the same times every day with food abundant in vitamins. They assisted Sophie in learning to bear weight on her legs, and helped to develop her motor and language skills – teaching her to identify and name different objects. They also played with her and took her for walks. They interacted with her like she was their own child – taking every measure to ensure her healthy development.

At the time we were united, she could walk, talk, smile and laugh!  Honestly, we could not see her “special need” in any way.  Yes, she was a petite, small young girl. She still is. She always will be.

The Larsons with Sophie and her foster family in 2001, when they traveled to Vietnam to bring her home.

As we sat down with Sophie’s foster family, they began to tell us about our daughter.  They told us how her day played out.  They told us what foods she likes – how slowly she eats and how you have to “keep at her” to finish her meals!  They talked about how much she played with their son and daughter and how she would go to the neighbors and make friends and be a social butterfly!  She loved getting on the foster father’s motorbike and go for rides.  She knew when he had his “business” clothes on to go get the shoes that went with that attire, and when he was in everyday wear to get “other” shoes!  This really made us laugh!!  They told us how she loved watching television and listening to music while dancing.  She is a daring little girl. As they pointed at a ladder that went to their loft, they said she found it “thrilling to go up and down!”  As the conversation continued, we saw tears in both her foster mother and father’s eyes.  We promised we would take good care of Sophie Lan and to send photos.

And hopefully, come back one day to visit….

“One day” came in March 2008, when we made arrangements to see Sophie’s wonderful foster family.  When they came to meet us at the orphanage, our daughters were off with a couple caregivers and there was a look of “where is she?” in their eyes.  Then the humming of the bike came through the gates and their faces lit up!  They could not believe their eyes when Sophie got off the bike and was escorted over to them by the caregiver. They scooped her up for a big hug, and then stepped back and started excitedly talking in Vietnamese!  We were told they were amazed by her long torso, long legs – she had grown into such a healthy and happy third grader!  She took turns sitting on their laps and listening to the translation of their questions and conversation.  They brought her and our family some small gifts to remember them by.  She told them she will never forget them and thanked them for taking such good care of her when she was a baby.  Again, when we said goodbye, there were tears – but we believe they were tears of happiness, knowing that what they did so selflessly helped make a difference in “our” little girl’s life.

Today, Sophie is just about finished with the 8th grade. Next year, she will start high school and is enrolled in all honors-level classes. She is taking karate lessons, tennis and loves animals and art. So much of Sophie’s success we attribute to the love and care her foster family gave her during the critical early years of her life. On her nightstand, Sophie keeps a framed photo of their entire family. I pray that one day, she will see them again.

Sophie today.

Bridge of Love

This story was originally published on Debbie’s blog after she traveled on Holt’s 2008 gift team to Korea.

by Debbie Dunham

Debbie’s son, Drew, with his foster mother in Korea.

When we were waiting for our first Korean-born child to come home, we worried about the care she was receiving away from us. Was anybody holding her, rocking her? Was she experiencing any love? Would she be able to cuddle and love us? Well, we needn’t have worried. We quickly learned that, not only had she been held and loved, but by some standards, she was spoiled (though I don’t really believe you can spoil a baby). Contrary to our fear that she might not be receiving enough human touch, we learned that it is customary for foster mothers here to carry babies constantly. Our daughter not only welcomed our human touch, she expected to be held all of the time. She had been well-fed in both body and soul.

For the third year in a row, I am in South Korea at Christmastime as part of a Christmas Gift Team from our adoption agency, Holt International Children’s Services. Yesterday, we attended the 40th annual celebration for foster mothers who provide care here in Korea for babies waiting to go home to their adoptive families. The celebration honored women who have given five, ten, fifteen, twenty-five and thirty years of service as foster mothers as well as a handful who are retiring, having reached their 65th birthdays. I have seen these foster mothers in action. On my first trip to Korea, while I waited to meet my son, I watched as foster mothers, babies on their backs, came into the clinic waiting area.
Debbie’s daughter, Kelsey, reunited with her foster mother in March 2001. Kelsey was the last child this Holt foster mom ever cared for, and she struggled to say goodbye at the end of their visit.
Many of them know each other and the chatter in the room was constant – and it was clear that the main topic of conversation was their babies. “See how he’s grown!” “Look at this new tooth!” “Watch her smile!” I didn’t understand the words, they were spoken in Korean, but the meaning did not require translation. Caring for these babies is not just a job, though they do it 24/7 with very little in monetary compensation; it’s obviously a passion. It’s my observation from watching the foster mothers and from hearing them speak at these luncheons, that they do this job, give their love because they see it as their part in helping these babies survive and thrive while they wait to go home to their new families – they are a bridge of love from the birth family to the adoptive family.
The Dunham family traveled to Korea in March 2001 to pick up their youngest daughter, Halley. She is pictured here with her foster mother.

Two of our team members, girls ages eleven and twelve, had the opportunity yesterday to meet with their foster mothers for the first time since leaving Korea as infants. These girls had been with their foster mothers for a few short months, but the connection was obvious. The older girl, having seen her foster mother (and the entire foster family) in a different part of the room, could hardly wait to go to her. She had a small gift for her foster mom and as soon as there was a short break in the program, her mom told her that she could go ahead and take the gift to her foster mom. The girl jumped up from her seat and made her way in the crowded room to the place where her foster family waited. The girl greeted her foster mother and handed over the gift, but it wasn’t the gift in her hand that held meaning, it was the gift of the engulfing, mutual hug that showed just how much value both the children and their families put on that bridge of love.

Korean toddler wearing red eye glasses

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