In northern Kentucky, a delightful seven-year-old girl named Genny swirls through the living room in a pink dress, enchanting everyone she talks with. She has never met a stranger or someone to whom she hasn’t brought joy with her musical laugh. Over a thousand miles away, Chloe, the sweetest two-year-old, giggles through her unique rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and shows off her favorite baby dolls. One would never know these two beautiful girls have faced unspeakable challenges in their young lives. These grandparents who are raising their grandchildren and have gone through the foster-to-adopt process with them have made all the difference.
What Is Foster to Adopt?
Foster to adopt is when a person applies to become a certified foster parent with the goal of adopting the child for whom they are providing care. While the goal of foster care is often reunification with the child’s parent, in some cases returning the child to their parents is neither possible nor safe. While foster care is meant to be a temporary placement for the child, adoption is permanent.
Grandparents raising their grandchildren sometimes choose to become certified foster families to continue caring for their grandchildren. In cases where the courts have terminated the parent’s rights to the child or the parent is deceased, the grandparents may choose to go through the foster-to-adopt process and formally adopt their grandchild.
Both Chloe and Genny’s grandparents chose not only to raise their grandchildren but opted to go the foster-to-adopt route. However, the journey has been long and difficult for both grandmothers. Linda Sears and Jane Bennett graciously invited Focus on the Family into their homes to share their stories of being grandparents raising grandchildren with the hopes and prayers of blessing you.
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Linda’s Story
At age sixty-five, Linda Sears is the proud grandparent of a seven-year-old social butterfly named Genny. The smile on her face as Genny makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and talks about going into second grade reveals a fierce love for the sweet girl.
Linda’s daughter, Shelby, and her partner Robbie have struggled with drug addiction since before Genny was born. Linda and her husband, Lyall, invested much of their time and resources to get the young couple into rehab and find them support. However, when Genny was born, she and Shelby tested positive for six different drugs.
The hospital refused to release newborn Genny to her parents without their successful completion of drug treatment, so the only option was for her to go home with Linda and Lyall and be cared for by them.
Genny and her mother lived with her grandparents until she was a year and a half old. Despite the withdrawal and challenges of being born with drugs in her system, she had normal development. Both parents had jobs and continued to support her, checking in frequently. However, Linda began to notice warning signs that the drug use had resumed when Shelby and Robbie became erratic and withdrawn, neglecting to keep Genny in clean clothes and adequately cared for.
A Turning Point
When Genny was three years old, Robbie overdosed on heroin. Shelby, who was with him at the time, called the police. The Kentucky Department for Community-Based Services (DCBS) arrived later that evening to take Genny into custody and place her in foster care.
“When they came to the house, Lyall and I told them we wanted to take care of Genny,” Linda says. “We didn’t want her to go to someone outside the family.” DCBS ran background checks on the Sears family and thoroughly investigated their house that night. They found drugs and paraphernalia in Shelby’s bedroom. While DCBS told Linda that she was enabling her daughter’s drug use by not getting them involved sooner, they did allow Genny to remain with her grandparents.
The Foster-to-Adopt Process
Linda and Lyall started to go through the formal foster care process the next day. “They picked apart every facet of our life from our references to our bank statements, home ownership, and insurance. Once they proved we were morally upstanding grandparents, they officially placed Genny with us.”
Robbie and Shelby went into the Kentucky START (Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Team) program, which provides opportunities for adults to attend rehab, get training, and learn how to live a drug-free life that will enable them to care for themselves and their children. As with every drug rehabilitation, Linda and Lyall prayed it would be the last.
Every month, the Sears family would meet before a domestic judge to hear updates on the parents’ progress. However, rather than hearing that Robbie and Shelby were succeeding in the program, they learned the opposite was true. Genny’s parents’ visitation changed to short, supervised visits in public places, and they were not permitted to visit the Sears’ home.
Genny had many questions about where her mom was, why she couldn’t go home with her parents, or why they couldn’t come to see her. When Shelby was in the rehab center, Linda and Genny would drive three hours each way to visit her for a single hour. She told Genny that the rehab centers they visited were hospitals trying to help her mommy get well. This routine became their normal.
The Loss of a Grandparent
In November 2019, Lyall passed away unexpectedly. Genny felt her grandfather’s death keenly. “The two of them were best buddies. They had breakfast together every morning, and he always had either her or a dog on his lap.” Shelby was in rehab then and was not released to attend her father’s funeral.
Three days after Lyall’s passing, a worker from DCBS visited Linda’s house. The worker asked Linda if she still wanted to pursue foster care for Genny and if he had the income to continue. The DCBS worker also wanted to know how Linda planned to process her grief so that she could care for her granddaughter.
“Genny was my lifesaver,” Linda says. “On days when I was depressed and asking God why all this had to happen to me, her little arms would wrap around my neck and she’d give me a kiss and tell me she loved me. She kept me going.”
Three months later, in February 2020, Linda received foster care approval. A month later, with the start of the Covid pandemic, Linda lost her job at the daycare where she worked. Instead of having two incomes, she was down to none. However, God provided for her and Genny in miraculous ways. “He never gives you more of a burden than you can carry. We don’t know the Lord’s will, but He will provide for your needs a hundred percent, every single time.”
A Formal Adoption
In May 2022, Shelby and Robbie’s parental rights were terminated by the courts after failing to complete rehab. “The court asked me if I wouldn’t rather have a younger family member adopt Genny. I know I’m no spring chicken, but I didn’t intend to let anyone else do my job.” In August 2022, Linda completed the foster-to-adopt process and formally adopted Genny.
Genny is thriving. She does well in school, is articulate, and has never met a stranger. Shelby and Robbie have both been sober for almost two years. They are now allowed to visit Linda’s home. Genny visits each parent on alternating weekends and though Robbie and Shelby are no longer in a relationship, they are united in raising Genny well and encouraging each other.
“It was tough to choose between my daughter and granddaughter,” Linda says. “But Genny wasn’t given a choice. I won’t sugarcoat it and say it’s not hard to start again. Don’t go into raising your grandchildren lightly. But never underestimate the power of God and His love. It’s the most gratifying thing you’ll ever do for yourself and your grandchild.”
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Jane’s Story
Jane Bennett* is turning seventy years old. She doesn’t let age stop her. In fact, she’s determined to live as long as Moses, sharp of mind and wit, and be a hundred and twenty before God takes her home.
“God gave me a vision when I was very young,” she says. “First, He called me to work with the deaf. Second, He called me to be a missionary to foreign children.” Jane has been an early childhood educator most of her life, teaching children who are deaf and hard of hearing. She raised two children who she adopted from Korea and India, and now raises her adorable two-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.
Jane’s eyes sparkle, and the corner of her lips quivers as she tries to stifle a laugh. Chloe is climbing on the back of the couch with a favorite baby doll in tow and is rather cleverly negotiating to watch Jana Alayra’s “High and Low.” Jane turns the video on for Chloe, and her sweet voice fills the room.
Jane watches her for a few moments, reflecting on God’s great love and provision for their family over the years. “She reminds me of her mom,” Jane says as Chloe dances to the song. “They could be twins. It’s like déjà vu.”
Abuse and Trauma
Jasmine, a young girl from Korea, made Jane a mother almost forty years ago when she was adopted by Jane and her husband, Mike. A younger sister, Dahlia, joined the family shortly after that from India. However, Jane’s marriage to Mike was abusive. Not only did she and the girls endure trauma from his abusive behavior, but it continued after they left for their safety.
“If it hadn’t been for the kids, I wouldn’t have left and I’d be dead,” Jane says. “I wouldn’t have taken those steps just for myself. But I knew what he was doing to me he would eventually start doing to my daughters, so we had to leave.”
Jane and her daughters moved to a different state, where Mike remained almost completely out of the picture. In five years, he only saw his daughters three times. When Jasmine was going into sixth grade, Mike remarried. He and his new wife, who shared many of the same behaviors, followed Jane and her daughters to California. They stayed there for four years before moving back to the Midwest. However, those four years were detrimental to the girls.
Both Jasmine and Dahlia struggled to win their father’s love and approval. They never gave up hope that they could earn it. However, manipulation and his struggle to give affection wounded the girls’ spirits. In a reflection of their pain, the girls’ behavior eventually led to drug addiction.
“I did my best to model Jesus to my girls,” Jane says. “I asked for years, ‘God, what did I do wrong?’ I didn’t have a grasp on how culture and trauma affects kids.”
Jane and Jasmine became estranged as Jasmine struggled with her addiction. When Jasmine became pregnant with Chloe, she could never tell her mother about the pregnancy. Instead, Dahlia “ratted her out.” Jane told Jasmine, “Nothing will change my love for you. I’m here to support you.”
When Chloe was born, Jane received a call from a caseworker in Arizona. “Ms. Bennett, are you aware that you have a granddaughter?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Are you aware that she was born with drugs in her system?”
No, Jane didn’t know. The caseworker informed Jane that she either had to come to Phoenix to get the baby or that they would place Chloe in foster care. Jane told the caseworker that she would finish her week teaching and drive to Arizona to be with Jasmine and care for Chloe.
Caring for Chloe was different than it had been caring for her own daughters. “You have to treat babies differently when they’re born with drugs in their system. Their needs are almost opposite that of other newborns in the NICU.” Chloe and Jasmine were transferred to Hushabye Nursery in Phoenix, where they could recover. The center had dim lights and calm, soothing music to provide a safe and comfortable place for the baby girl. She stayed at the nursery until she reached five pounds and was soon placed in foster care.
A Plot Twist
Jane was torn between how to help Jasmine and how to help Chloe. They struggled with caseworkers who were unethical, disrespectful, and went against their own policies. Overall, they had seven different caseworkers, three of whom were assigned to their case the day before their court appearances and didn’t know them.
Jane hired an attorney, exhausted from the ever-changing rules and lack of information from the courts. She called a dear friend and together they petitioned God for help. “It felt like something evil was happening in that office. We specifically asked God to shake Chloe loose and deliver her from the evil entanglements. And three days later, Chloe was placed with me.”
Chloe was placed with a foster care family who had been told they could foster to adopt her. They doted on the sweet infant and were overjoyed to share their first Christmas with her as part of their family. However, two days before Christmas, the court ruled to place Chloe with Jane instead.
The foster family was devastated at the news, but Jane allowed them to do family photos and share their Christmas celebration with Chloe. “This family was exactly what I had prayed for,” Jane says. “And they have connections with our family that we only are beginning to discover. For example, the mom’s uncle lives a few blocks away from us.” Jane and Chloe remain closely knit with her former foster family, and Chloe will have a friend to play with, as her foster mom recently delivered a beautiful baby of her own.
Moving in Faith
When Jane learned she had been given custody of Chloe, she was shocked. She never expected to be a grandparent raising grandchildren. “Sometimes wonder why the courts thought I was a better placement than her foster family. I was not expecting to be her placement.”
Jane moved to Colorado after gaining custody of Chloe to be closer to her parents, brother, and support network. Also, with the cost of living in Colorado being much less than in California, she was better positioned to financially support her grandchild.
The first year in Colorado was difficult, as Jane’s parents were in declining health. However, Chloe proved to be a balm to their souls, bringing laughter and joy into difficult moments. Jane lovingly recalls that her father’s last lucid moment here on earth was with Chloe, singing along to “Buzzy Buzzy Bee.”
Miracles Upon Miracles
Being a grandparent raising grandchildren can be challenging financially. There have been times when Jane has had to be creative to make ends meet and provide for herself and Chloe. “Where God’s calling is, there His provision is also,” Jane says. “He’s called me to raise my granddaughter, and He hasn’t failed to provide for us.”
When moving to Colorado, friends and neighbors stopped by unexpectedly with checks to help cover expenses. A vacant duplex next door to her brother became available in Colorado that she could rent. Having sold her furniture to afford the move, she expected to be sleeping on an air mattress for a while. However, when she and Chloe arrived, she discovered that her family had furnished the home for her.
When Jane needed to furnish Chloe’s nursery, she knew she could. not afford brand-new furniture. However, she discovered a beautiful crib for free on the sidewalk. A few days later, a matching changing table became available. Both perfectly matched each other and the antique maple rocking chair Jane had bought at auction nearly 40 years ago for Chloe’s mother. “Those things didn’t need to match, but they did. That’s God’s goodness!”
Foster to Adoption
The courts eventually terminated Jasmine’s parental rights to Chloe, and Chloe’s father ceded his rights, which opened the door for Jane to go through the foster-to-adopt process and formally adopt her. She had to be licensed in two different states to adopt her granddaughter.
Jane’s friends and family support her adoption of Chloe, and many are excited for her. Some ask if she knows what she is doing and wonder why she is raising a two-year-old at her age, but still support and encourage her. “Sometimes Satan tells me I’m too old to do this, but it’s a lie. I’m never too old to do something God wants me to do.”
“I have boatloads of stress,” she says, “But I’m not stressed out because He is there and because I have such wonderful support.” Jane’s prayer warriors, ministries, friends, and family support system have been invaluable to her success in completing the foster-to-adopt process and in raising her granddaughter. She has learned to appreciate the value of the body of Christ.
Jasmine is in a drug recovery program in Arizona, fighting to overcome her addiction. “She’s two different people when she’s on and off drugs,” Jane says. “Her mind is intact when she’s not on drugs, and she’s very smart, making goals and sharing dreams. Many people who have been on drugs for that many years are just not the same. God has preserved her for the most part.”
The foster-to-adopt process and healing have been difficult for Jane and her family. Jane says, “I have learned the faithfulness of God through the furnace of affliction.” While there is healing and restoration still to come and many years ahead until sweet Chloe becomes an adult, she is confident that God will provide and guide her through every moment.
Words of Advice for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
“What would I say to a grandparent raising grandchildren or considering doing it?” Linda’s voice becomes passionate. “There’s nothing else like it in the world. Don’t underestimate yourself. You can do way more than you think you can. Don’t quit. The rewards outweigh any challenges. You’ve got to take it all together, the diamonds with the rocks. But when they throw their arms around, and you hear their sweet voice, those are the diamonds that make it all worthwhile. As if on cue, sweet Genny sweeps in for a hug and plants a kiss on her Granny’s cheek.
“If God has called you to raise your grandchildren, then He will empower you with joy and compassion to do it. No matter what comes, He is always there,” Jane encourages. “Raising grandkids is very different than raising your own kids. Don’t try and do it the same. Be who you are and raise them for the Lord, with the wisdom and insight you’ve gained over the years.” Chloe’s laughter fills the air as she climbs onto her Nana’s lap, waving and singing about Jesus’ love.
* The names of this family have been changed to respect their privacy.
© 2023 Carol Cuppy. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.