The children Terri and Scot Orton adopted are autistic brothers who had never lived together before, since their needs were so intensive.
The Mason City couple recently became adoptive parents to six children: four in California, and two in Mason City.
“[The Ortons] connected [the brothers] with their sisters who were adopted in Fort Dodge years back,” Caren Brunsvold, their Four Oaks caseworker, said. “The boys had not seen their sisters in several years.”
In addition to the six adopted kids, the Ortons also have a 17-year-old foster son and have recently received legal guardianship of a 15-year-old boy.
In 2018, there were 48 children removed in Cerro Gordo County and placed in foster care, 19 of which were 5 years old and younger, 13 of which were 6 to 12 years old and 16 of which were 13 to 18 years old, according to the Iowa Department of Human Services.
There were only 27 foster homes in Cerro Gordo County that were available for placement in 2018, according to Bambi Schrader, recruitment and training coordinator for Four Oaks Foster and Adoptive Family Connections Program. Twelve of these foster homes would only take children 5 years old and younger, seven would take 6- to 12-year-olds and eight would take 13- to 18-year-olds.
In 2001, Terri was working in California as a recreational therapist for kids in grades 1 through 5 at a day treatment program, and half the kids she worked with were foster kids, Terri said.
“Their situations were heartbreaking to me,” she said. “I had the desire to do more for kids. I went to an informational meeting, and the desire to be a foster parent was very strong.”
She then became a licensed foster parent from 2001 to 2005 in California, after which she adopted four siblings out of the 12 children she had been fostering.
“Although it wasn’t always easy, and there was a lot of heartache at times, it was well worth it,” she said. “Each child became a part of my family and I loved them as my own. Still today I’ve kept in touch with a couple of them. Each child changed my life and helped me to become the person I am today.”
In the surrounding counties, Wright, Worth, Franklin and Winnebago, there were 39 children removed, but only 19 foster homes.
Terri married Scot, and they became licensed foster and adoptive parents in Iowa since December 2018 because they were caring for two brothers and wanted to adopt them.
She had met the older brother, Zach, while working at John Adams Middle School as the behavior interventionist, Terri said.
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“Zach had no family and was a very sad and lonely boy who had been moved more times than he could count,” she said. “I connected with Zach and started taking him home from Four Oaks to visit and hang out with our family. DHS allowed us to keep him as a significant other placement while we got licensed.”
Scot said he had actually never thought about fostering or adopting until Terri started talking about Zach, and knowing his wife’s heart and history to help kids through fostering he agreed to help the young boy.
“Once I met him and got to know him and felt his need to be loved and saw the change in him once he got that, I was hooked,” he said.
Cerro Gordo County had an increase in referrals to 48 in 2018. There were 35 referrals in 2017 and 66 in 2016.
“Referrals are children placed out of home in foster care,” Schrader said. “Current stats are that about 30 percent of these children would not be reunified and would go on to the purpose of adoption.”
When Terri and Scot discovered Zach had a younger brother at Woodward Academy who also needed a family, they took him in as well, Terri said.
“Even though there are some very challenging days, the two boys that we’ve adopted and the one we are fostering have all become an integral part of our family, and we value each one’s personality, love and uniqueness,” she said.
Terri said they do not work with the birth parents of the two boys they recently adopted; they have contact with their foster son’s dad on occasion, though they don’t have visits. Recently, Terri said she opened communication between the four siblings from California and their birth mom since the siblings are now 15, 16, 17 and 18 years old, and their mother is finally sober.
The most important part about adopting and fostering is realizing that most kids needing adoption or a foster home didn’t want or expect to be in the situation they were put in, and all they need is someone to love and help them in life, Scot said.
“Local kids need families,” Schrader said. “I know a lot of people do overseas adoptions as well, but taking care of the kids right here in our own town and communities is so important. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. ”
People seeking to become adoptive or foster parents must fill out an inquiry form and go through orientation, fingerprint and background checks and at least 10 weeks of training, Schrader said.
November is National Adoption Month to raise awareness about kids in foster care and the need for adoptive families.