Kelly Schultz decided in high school that adoption would be the way she’d make her family one day.
More than 20 years later, she and her husband, Loren, have fostered 17 children and adopted three daughters of their own.
They refer to the 17 foster children and teens who have lived in their home as “a family forest,” saying they have “branches from many family trees that we bind together.”
Now “retired” as foster parents, they encourage others to make the commitment, given the enormous need throughout the state.
Across Missouri, an estimated 13,000 youths live in foster care facilities, according to the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association.
In Boone County, 417 children were served by foster care from April 2016 to March 2017, according to a report by Fostering Court Improvement.
But at the same time, the number of foster care providers has dropped.
As of September 2017, a total of 65 foster care providers were licensed in the county. That is a nearly 20 percent decrease from the 81 providers licensed in September 2016, according to a report from the Missouri Children’s Division.
In February, Gov. Eric Greitens recommended state budget cuts of 3 percent to reimbursements for doctors and other providers who care for people on Medicaid, including to foster-care families.
Then, in July, the governor reversed cuts to foster-care families, calling it a “mistake.” Cutting aid to families who care for foster children “was never our intention,” Greitens wrote in a letter, as reported by the Associated Press.
Before his reversal, Lori Ross, the executive director of Foster Adopt Connect, told the St. Louis Post- Dispatch, “Missouri already has a very low reimbursement rate. To have that reduced by even 1.5 percent is very frustrating.”
“For some, it just sort of feels like a kick in the teeth,” she said.
Kelly Schultz, 40, said she knew she wanted fostering and adoption to be a part of her life after a stint at the emergency childcare facility Rainbow House. She became a house parent, staying at the shelter and helping care for kids.
Loren Schultz’s youngest brother was adopted from Korea, and his family would inspire another in their Nebraska church to adopt a young girl from Korea.
“When Loren and I had been dating a while and it was time to have those serious discussions, I was really excited that adoption was a part of his family and that he was OK with that as a plan,” Kelly Schultz said.
Recently the Schultzes say they heard from a child, now an adult, who left their home 12 years ago.
“Once a child enters your life, they stay there forever,” Kelly Schultz said.
Goals of fostering
The Schultzes have now adopted three girls: 12-year-old Brianna, 10-year-old Mylisa and 8-year-old Cheyenne.
There is a difference between being a foster family and being an adoptive family, Kelly Schultz explained.
The goal of fostering is reunification of child and family. It is a temporary arrangement, she said, whereas adoption means permanently having a child under your care.
“Foster families work with families to return kids home because, if possible, it’s best that kids go back home to Mom and Dad,” she said.
Before a foster child even walks through the door, a lot goes on. Mandatory parent training, home inspections and other measures are in place to make sure the children have a suitable living environment.
Medicine must be locked up, escape routes posted and other steps taken, but as Schultz says, “Really, you’re never fully ready.”
As much as parents prepare, she said, they are still susceptible to mistakes, like any other parent.
“We don’t get everything perfect, but we try really hard,” she said. “When we make mistakes, we apologize, and that’s part of the learning process.”
Loren Schultz, 47, said it’s more about going with the flow.
“You make do with what you have, and get what you need when you need it, and make it happen,” he said.
Foster parents also need to learn how to handle reactions from the public, when strangers behave in ways that could be considered microaggressions.
Kelly Schultz remembered an instance that occurred when buying goggles on the way to a water park. A woman began to touch one of her girl’s hair, scolding her for not taking care of it properly.
When that happens, open discussions about how their family is different enables them to remain unfazed, she said.
Schultz said her daughters are confident in these situa.tions.
“They know who they are; they’re able to express themselves,” she said. “Even though the grocery store moments drive me crazy, I think that I respond to them confidently.”
When it comes to conversations about race, Schultz said she learned from her mother, who taught school on the north side of Springfield.
With boys, she said she wasn’t afraid to tackle topics like interracial dating, traffic stops and police interactions because she said she understands the importance of open dialogue.
But there was a desire to protect her oldest daughter, Brianna, so she put off difficult conversations, thinking they wouldn’t be necessary until she was older.
That changed when she was in third grade.
“One of her classmates called her the N-word,” Schultz said. “I was heartbroken.”
“I hadn’t warned her, and I felt like as a white mom, I had let her down,” she said. “Had she been raised in a black household, she would have had the words for it. She would have had a response for it.”
Since then, she said, she has realized the need to continue open conversations to give her daughters ways to respond in difficult situations.
There’s also a need to talk to them about their birth moms and families in order to maintain connections.
“We found a picture of Grandma for one of my daughters, and that was huge,” she said. “She looks just like her grandma, so that’s important.”
Schultz’s work as director at the Missouri Office of Child Advocate aligns with her involvement in fostering. In her job, she reviews court cases of at-risk children and advocates on their behalf.
So whether someone is pursuing adoption or fostering, her advice is the same: “It doesn’t matter if it’s foster, adoptive, step, biological, whatever — take a deep breath, laugh, cry and get your support because parenting is hard.”
Loren’s advice is a little different.
“Make sure to get married to someone like her,” he said.
“Once a child enters your life, they stay there forever.” Kelly schultz mother of three adopted children