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Fostering makes this family

The Lucias of Canyon Country have fostered 27, adopted five

Posted: December 10, 2009 9:14 p.m.
Updated: December 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Keenan Lucia spends quality time with his little sister Clarissa. Keenan was adopted by the Lucia family through the foster care system.

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There are more than 81,170 children in California who are hoping and waiting to be adopted.

Twenty-seven children, at one point or another, were a part of Jeff and Beverly Lucia's family. Five of the 27 stayed and adopted the Lucia surname.

The Canyon Country couple, married in 1985, started discussing foster care as newlyweds.

"We moved here from Oregon and we had thought about (fostering) previously," said Beverly Lucia, 45. "We were young and married, but we were interested."

Involved with the Children's Bureau in a variety of ways for more than 20 years, the Lucias have played their part in leaving a positive mark on the lives of many children in need. And they continue to do so.

Southern California Children's Bureau, finalizing more than 100 adoptions each year, is one of the largest, private nonprofit adoption agencies in California. Established in 1904, the organization is "committed to providing vulnerable children - especially in the early years - the foundation necessary to become caring and productive adults," according to its Web site.

"Foster care gives high quality care to children that need temporary homes," Marcia Morris, recruitment coordinator at Children's Bureau, wrote in an e-mail.

The agency strives to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to protect, nurture and treat abused children. The agency realizes that in order to serve vulnerable children in need, it also must assist the foster parents. The agency therefore offers a multitude of programs to enhance the potential of families and communities to meet the needs of their children - programs in foster care, adoptions, child development, parent education, mental health, research and advocacy.

Things were done a bit differently back when the Lucias first got involved.

"We went through training classes and back then, we watched a video," she said about the preparation offered to foster parents. "Our social worker (also) came out to chat and discuss things with us."

Since then, the Children's Bureau has improved its education program. "Today (families) have more training and know more about helping the children in their care to succeed," Morris' e-mail said. "They also have access to more information through Children's Bureau libraries and through the internet."

Today, potential foster care parents have the opportunity to voice their preferences.

"Back then, there weren't a lot of options. Now, you can pick a sex, pick an age," Beverly Lucia said. "We were open to wherever there was a need."

Entering foster care
When Beverly was 24, and Jeff was 26, the Lucias welcomed their first foster child.

"Our first placement was a 2-and-a-half-year-old," Beverly Lucia said. "He was a cutie, a blue-eyed boy."

The toddler was removed from his family when he was 6 months old and lived in shelters throughout his life. While the child's father was completing the steps to gain back his son, the child easily adjusted to Beverly and Jeff Lucia and naturally started calling them, mommy and daddy.

His time spent as a Lucia was short-lived though. The baby was reunited with his biological father.

"I remember him asking, ‘Why are you crying mommy?'" Beverly said. "Which made me cry even harder."

Foster care is bittersweet in this way, sharing tears of sadness at the loss of a child with tears of happiness with the reunion of its biological family. Despite the sadness Jeff and Beverly Lucia felt, they welcomed an 8-week-old baby boy into their home a month before their first foster child's departure.

Chad, who was abandoned in a hospital, is now a 21-year-old student who hopes to transfer to California State University, Northridge next year. He wants to work with people who have communicative disorders. The bureau has recently asked him to be an "adoptee mentor" for other kids in the system. "He's been through it all, being the oldest," Beverly Lucia said.

A growing family
Chad welcomed a sister when he was 16 months old. Nicollete joined the Lucia family under dire conditions.

"She was severely neglected," her adoptive mother said. "She was 10 pounds at seven months."

Nicollete is now 20 years old. She lives in residential care in Colorado - a program for children who cannot safely stay in their family environment due to their behaviors. "We wanted to keep everyone safe," Beverly Lucia said.

Although the state would consider her an adult, Nicollete has the education of a 5th-grader and the mentality of a 9-year-old. "She won't be able to live a completely independent life. One failure somewhere makes a difference in a child's life," Beverly Lucia said.

The Lucias are still heavily involved with Nicollete, despite the distance. "Some people question why we are (involved) because there are some intense things (we have to deal with)," she said. "But we adopted her. She's our daughter forever."

As the years went by, more foster children came and left the Lucia household. Six-week-old baby Jason was only supposed to stay temporarily. His grandfather wanted him, but his hands were full taking care of five grandchildren at the time. He was simply overwhelmed.

Jason is now a 17-year-old junior at Golden Valley High School. "He's the flair of our family - funny, always joking - a social butterfly," his mother said.

A couple more years went by and the Lucias received a phone call about a 3-day-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed abandoned baby in a hospital. The boy was born with medical problems and suffered from chronic seizures. The day Beverly Lucia was supposed to pick him up, the hospital called and canceled because he was seizing again.

"Here's a baby and no one is holding him," Beverly Lucia said recalling the day she received the call. "I went to see him anyway."

Keenan spent the first few years of his life in and out of hospitals. He was born with mitochondrial disease, a rare condition stemming from a mutation in DNA. After testing his mother, the Lucias' found that the disease was inherited.

"He was slow in developing skills," Beverly Lucia said. "He had a seizure disorder and had a vitamin B6 deficiency - which is rare."

He outgrew the vitamin deficiency, but doctors didn't think he would be able to walk due to low functioning muscles.

But Keenan beat the odds. He's now a 15-year-old and is walking, talking and making music. Despite having obsessive-compulsive and attention deficit disorders, he taught himself to read when we was a 3-year-old. He plays piano and sings.

Staying together
The Lucias, a family of four at this point, thought their family was complete. Until they received a call from a social worker from the Children's Bureau. "Jason has a little brother in the system," the social worker said. "Do you want him?"

The baby was already placed with another family, but then a social worker did a little research and found that he had a blood-brother in the system. The bureau tries to pair siblings under one roof whenever possible. Because the Lucias had Jason, they had priority over the other foster family.

"(The bureau) is really pushing keeping families together," Beverly Lucia said.

"Many times, due to abuse and neglect, brothers and sisters are very close to each other as they try to survive and help each other through what has happened to them," Morris wrote in her e-mail. "Preserving this bond enables them to heal and move on with their life while still maintaining birth family connections. It gives them the foundation to attach both to their adoptive parents and later enables them to develop relationships with others."

The Lucias went to see the newborn who was born with a minor heart defect. "He had open heart surgery when he was 2 weeks old," Beverly Lucia said.

Five weeks later, he made his new home in Canyon Country with a blood brother and the rest of the Lucias.

The Lucias decided to name him Joshua, which was ironic because that's what his mother named him. "He's a very sweet 13-year-old," the adoptive mother of five children said. "You just want to pinch his cheeks."

Honesty prevails
From day one, Beverly and her husband decided to fully disclose information to their adopted children about their past. "It can cause definite issues if you don't," Beverly Lucia said.

The truth is always the best policy, Morris stated.

Different colored hair, eyes and skin tone is normal in the Lucia family. Her children think it's abnormal if a family doesn't have such diversity, Beverly Lucia said. Since the bureau had no information about Chad's biological parents, he doesn't know what ethnicity he is.

"He's stating he's Pacific Islander based off of what his pediatrician concluded looking at his features," Beverly Lucia said.

Chad expressed interest in searching for his biological parents, but the Lucia's have limited information on them, making it difficult to track anything down. Nicollette's biological parents were in the picture in the beginning, but they were flaky, Beverly Lucia said.

"We shared what went on with her (and the neglect she experienced) so she knows," she said. "She has never brought up the desire to meet her parents."

Jason and Joshua, blood brothers both of Hispanic decent, have had no contact with their parents. Their grandfather would occasionally contact the boys in the beginning, but stopped as the years went on.

Keenan's biological mother, who was a Caucasian teenager who hitch-hiked pregnant to California from Pennsylvania, spent the most amount of time with the Lucias.

She eventually returned to east and contact was lost. Keenan is the only one in the family to have a photograph of his biological mom.

"He talks about it the most," Keenan's adoptive mom said.

Jeff and Beverly Lucia also have three biological children, two of whom have special needs. Clarissa, 10, and Kyler and Brielle, 6, are a mix of French-Canadian (from dad) and Dutch and German (from mom).


Cleaning up a bad rap
Foster care horror stories are common, whether they're portrayed in TV shows and movies or reported in the news. But things are turning around for the thousands of children in need of a home, especially for those living in California.

"It's not perfect," Beverly Lucia said. "But it is better than what it was."

In March, Congress adopted a wide-ranging overhaul of federal foster care reimbursements to provide enhanced support for relative caregivers and foster youth from age 18 to 21. Now a California state bill by two Assembly Democrats, Jim Beall Jr. of San Jose and Speaker Karen Bass of Los Angeles, helps put the new federal thinking - and funding - to work for California kids.

Continuing funds until age 21 would help get foster youth get through at least their third year in college.

"At 18 years of age, especially due to their backgrounds, many of these children are not ready to be on their own and may not be able to support themselves," Morris said. "The years from 18 to 21 are when these children are lost to the streets - to drugs and alcohol. Providing funds for these years would keep them in the system with support and many benefits both financially and with mentors to help them succeed.

"No responsible parent would cut their child off at age 18 or 19, and say to them, ‘You are an adult now, and you can no longer return home, rely on my support or turn to me for guidance,'" said Justice Moreno, who serves as chairman of the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care and s a relative caregiver himself. "But that is exactly what California does to its foster youth."

With foster care services extending to age 21, studies have concluded that youth were three times more likely to enroll in college and are less likely to get arrested. More importantly, the children need to feel their sense of belonging to a family doesn't have an expiration date.

"Even if they turn 18, they still want a family," Beverly Lucia said. "They want to have siblings, grandparents ... a place to go on the holidays."

In the end, it's all about family for the Lucias.

"We just want to keep them safe and healthy. And to give them a good and happy life," she said.

Although the Lucias made (and continue to make) sacrifices maintaining a large family, the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages, she said.

"(My kids) are learning so much, like patience, respect, and accepting those who have disabilities," Beverly Lucia said. "It will benefit their future."

For more information about fostering a child, visit the Children's Bureau Web site at www.all4kids.org.

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