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Fostering Family: One local woman brings joy to several children

"One minute, Ariana would calmly let foster mom Donna Rogers fasten her into her carseat. The next, the pint-sized little girl would howl her outrage and thrash against the straps.It was as if she was struggling to control her environment, Rogers said.When the girl shrieked, Rogers murmured soothingly to her and gently stroked her hands, and the girl quieted. Rogers couldn't change the girl's history as a drug-addicted baby anymore than Ariana could. But Rogers could offer her the love and stability she likely wouldn't have experienced with her biological parents. All of the foster babies Rogers have cared for over the years, including those she's adopted like Ariana, have faced special challenges; most of them were born addicted to drugs. Some have thrown wild tantrums, punching walls and spitting at her. But Rogers said she always saw the potential inside them.The 52-year-old Federal Way woman lives with Ariana, 9, Cody, 9, Arielle, 8, Melissa, 6, Billy 5, and David, 2. She's adopted Ariana, Cody and Arielle and is in the process of adopting Melissa and Billy. She hopes to eventually be able to adopt her grandson David, the son of the first child she adopted. For now, Melissa, Billy and David are her foster kids.Her years as a foster mom have shown Rogers the power of love to strengthen people and give them a sense of belonging. It's also broadened her definition of family and reinforced the fact that troubled people offer as many gifts as they do problems, and while people can't change others, they can provide them the tools with which to change themselves.She offers her own family as proof. Ariana, for instance, has been in a special class for children with behavioral disabilities at her elementary school. But Ariana has improved her behavior so much her teacher asks Rogers: What's she doing here? and will soon transfer her to a regular class. The girl now seizes opportunities to get close to Rogers. On a recent evening, she asks, Can I sit by you, mom? as her mother talks at the kitchen table and pulls up a chair when Rogers nods and smiles. They love me so much, she said. This is their home. I'm their family. They may not have had a family.Rogers learned from her own family that people are equal parts frustrating and fantastic, and while love can't change someone who doesn't want to change, it can't hurt. Her alcoholic parents could be irrational and undependable when drinking. Her mother would take her children's clothes back to the store for a refund so she could get money for more alcohol. Her father would forget to pick up his daughters from their after school activities. But Rogers refuses to let the painful memories obliterate the positive ones. She prefers to paint her parents in realistic shades of gray, rather than picturing them as all good or all bad. She smiles as she recalls their nurturing natures. She fondly remembers settling on her father's lap while he read the Sunday comics to her. Her mother would involve her children in creative projects, such as making an Easter egg tree with hollowed out eggs or creating a cardboard ghost to hang in the window for Halloween.Their alcoholism meant her parents frequently asked Rogers and her older sister to care for their two youngest children. Rogers' baby sister was nine years younger and her brother was 11 years younger. Her older sister never took to caretaking the way Rogers did so she became like a second mom to them and developed an early passion for caring for children.Rogers would soothe her youngest siblings back to sleep with a bottle and a walk. When they got older, she'd play with them, teach them to ride bikes and read to them. She especially loved it when they'd wrap their arms around her neck and burrow against her but she's hard-pressed to name the least pleasant aspect of caring for them.I loved the whole mom thing, she said.In junior high, she would babysit for other families several nights a week and continued to look after her brother and sister when she was home. At 16, after her parents had moved from Washington to Illinois, she decided she missed Puget Sound. She moved back and stayed with a couple in Puyallup with three kids who were five, six and seven years younger.She drove them to and from school and to the movies - I became their big sister.A few years later, Rogers gave birth to Monica, her only biological child. When Monica was 11, Rogers, who had divorced her husband but longed for more children, adopted a little girl. Washington didn't adopt to single parents so Rogers had to adopt from Texas. She remembers weeping with joy when someone handed her the swaddled 8-week-old girl.Monica Ochs, who is 31 and lives in Mount Vernon, said she respects her mother for caring for kids at a time in life when most people are contemplating retirement. From the time Ochs was little, her mother dreamed of having a big family. She always talked about having a lot of kids, Ochs said. She didn't care how they came to her.About 80 percent of foster parents end up adopting their foster kids, said Darlene Flowers, executive director of the Foster Parents Association of Washington State. She knows of other foster parents besides Rogers who have adopted several children, but statistically it's probably not high. Her reasons for caring for foster kids, however, echo other foster parents' reasons. I've asked foster parents this and what they say they get out of it is knowing a child is healed mentally or emotionally, Flowers said, that some growth has happened. Rogers' first adoption provided plenty of challenges. The extremely challenging girl, whom Rogers suspects suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, flew into temper tantrums so wild she'd break any object she could fling at the wall.But that first experience didn't dampen Rogers' desire to adopt more children and race never was a factor, though it seemed to be for the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services. Ariana and Arielle are black while David is of mixed race. Cody, Melissa and Billy are white. The department's federal funding used to mandate that case workers find adoptive families of the same race as foster kids. That changed with the passage of the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 and Interethnic Adoption Provision of 1996She became a foster mom to Ariana when the girl was 13 1/2 months.When she came into the house, she said, 'Don't get too attached. We have a culturally relevant family for her,' she said of the DSHS worker. I thought, 'Screw you lady.' I was already attached to her.Her strong attachment to all the children is obvious. At her work as a court clerk for King County District Court, she answers to Donna Rogers. At home, she answers to Mom. And she does so frequently.One moment, she tells Ariana to help Arielle with her multiplication homework - Remember how it was when you were learning. The next, she snuggles David in her lap - Do you want your sippy cup?She questions them about their homework before agreeing to their requests to watch television or have a snack of popcorn. She expresses concern when Ariana complains of a hurt throat. She grins whenever David runs to her for a hug. It gets crazy around here, especially after work, Rogers said. 'Mama, mama.' Despite their racial differences, difficult backgrounds and their ongoing struggles, the children accept each other as family, she said.There's not any one of them that wouldn't stand up for each other if push comes to shove, she said. They're siblings. That's all there is to it.The old idea is love is not enough, she said. No, maybe it's not, but it overcomes a lot of obstacles. "

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