No more goodbyes

Stacy and Chris' story

By Catherine Wilson

When the MacInnis* family bid a sorrowful farewell to the two girls who had lived in foster care next door, they gave each girl a Bible as a moving-away gift. With each Bible they included a note that said, “We’re glad to have known you. We’ll think about you and pray for you wherever you go.” Today the girls – named Hope and Autumn – are the McInnis’ adopted daughters, and they occasionally laugh together about the note’s final promise: “Our door is always open to you.”

For Hope and Autumn, what was once just a hopeful sentiment to ease the pain of another farewell has become a life-changing anchor of certainty. Now they can be sure that every time they leave the MacInnis’ house, they will return. They will return home. That certainty has made all the difference to the girls. Above all, their story reveals what it can mean to a child to belong.

Mom Stacy recalls how the Lord brought the girls into their lives when their biological son, Dillon, was four and their daughter, Jenna, was just two. “Our neighbour provided foster care and we had seen a lot of children come and go from her house,” says Stacy. “But Dillon especially enjoyed Hope and Autumn’s company. He once knocked out a fence board because he wanted to play with the girls so badly.

“My neighbour had her hands full taking care of two infants, plus the girls. Hope and Autumn were ages seven and three at that time. Once or twice my neighbour asked if I would drive Hope to school with Dillon, and from there it evolved into a daily thing. Over time, I got to know a little about what was going on in Hope’s life. Sometimes she‘d say, ‘I’m seeing my dad this weekend,’ then later she’d tell me her dad hadn’t shown up. Soon, my heart was involved.”

Then, quite suddenly, Stacy learned the girls would be moving away. After 15 years providing foster care, her neighbour had decided to retire from fostering. The MacInnises shared with Hope and Autumn in the sorrow of saying goodbye – a sorrow that had become routine for the girls. Stacy struggled to be cheerful as she attended their farewell party and presented Hope and Autumn with their Bibles.

Soon after the party, another surprise: Alberta’s Children and Youth Services phoned to ask if the girls could stay with the MacInnises while the ministry finalized their permanent placement with another family.

Just a week later, the girls moved in. But if they were excited at all, it didn’t show. “I think the girls felt a lot of hesitation,” Stacy recalls. “They had had so many moves. They had lived with the lady next door for only ten months – their tenth home in four years.

“Chris, my husband, told me to be careful; the girls would only be here two or three months and my heart would be broken. But very soon I didn’t want them to go. And once the girls had been here for a couple of months, Chris knew he loved them too. We were so relieved when we heard that their placement with the other family had been denied.”

Stacy and Chris could have chosen to remain kinship** foster parents, but their love for the girls propelled them toward adoption. “We could see that Hope, in particular, would receive real value from being part of a forever family,” says Stacy. Twelve months after they applied to adopt, Stacy and Chris could see positive changes in Hope.

“Hope is hypervigilant,” Stacy explains. “She looks at the calendar every day. If she sees something she doesn’t recognize, she’ll worry about it. Also, she needs to know where I am all the time. And when I’m on the phone, she’s quite curious about who I’m talking to. I think it’s because of all the moves she’s had. In one foster home she was in, she was told, After school tomorrow you are moving. There was no warning, no preparation. So I think every time someone’s talking, Hope’s worried that they’re talking about her and that she’s going to be moved. She appears to be nosy, but it’s really a vigilance that stems from not knowing when the next sudden, life-changing upheaval is coming.

“We recently moved to another small town in our region. We were already in the process of adopting the girls and we thought it was clear to Hope that we were all moving together; we were talking about moving as a family. But leading up to the move, Hope was still very anxious.

“Once we did move, Hope settled down a lot. She became far more comfortable, less anxious. Moving together was wonderful for her. She’d never moved with a family before, just away from them. We could see she was more relaxed; she went to sleep more easily; she didn’t ask as many questions. She still looks at the calendar every day. But now, if she sees something marked on the calendar she doesn’t recognize, she will ask about it. Before, she would just keep her worries to herself and we wouldn’t know what was wrong.”

For Autumn too, the stability of belonging in a permanent family has made a tremendous difference. Autumn has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, in addition to reactive attachment disorder – a consequence of moving from home to home so frequently. To progress, she needs the understanding and consistency Stacy and Chris provide.

“Autumn’s reactions are not typical,” Stacy points out. “The parenting that we use with the other kids doesn’t work with her. One of the consequences of FASD is that it’s impossible to link actions with consequences. Discipline usually means, You did this action, so you get this consequence, but we don’t use consequences with Autumn. She’s not going to learn that way. She learns through consistency and habit. She can pick up a habit but she needs to be reminded again and again for a long time, often for about a year. And sometimes something will disrupt her, and she will lose that habit again. For example, right now, school’s been out for a few days, and Autumn’s been much louder and more active than usual. She’ll forget she’s not to run in the house; we have to constantly remind her to ‘use her walking feet in the house.’ You have to be very patient with her.”

It’s clear that Hope and Autumn have benefitted from a permanent home, but what about the MacInnis’ biological children? How do they feel about sharing their home and their parents? Here’s Stacy’s perspective:

“I know a lot of people worry that adopting will be harmful to their biological children or that they won’t have enough time or love for everyone. I feel that the girls’ adoption has been a blessing for our biological children too. They see that we care enough about the children around us to open our home to them, and our kids have been blessed with siblings. There’s no question that their lives are better because of these girls. Once, after the girls moved in, we asked Dillon in private, ‘Is this hard for you? How do you feel about having the girls here?’ He was quiet for a long time and then he said, ‘How do you spell Perfect?’ ”


* Names have been changed for privacy purposes.

** The term "kinship" is not restricted to biological relatives; a child can be placed in the home of a non-related caregiver if the caregiver has become significant in the child’s life.

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor for Focus on the Family Canada.