Navigating the path from fostering to adopting
Steve and Colleen Van Matre have had a busy home the past 19 years.
They have raised four biological children who are now mostly grown, and in that span the Spring Hill couple has also welcomed between 35-40 foster children who have ranged in age from toddler to youngster to teenager.
Ironically perhaps, the Van Matres thought it would be a good idea to start fostering while Colleen was pregnant with their youngest child. They were living in Ohio at the time, and the household then consisted of two girls ages 7 and 5, a 2-year-old boy and the soon-to-be newborn.
What’s another whole bunch of kids?
“We just felt called to do more than what we were doing,” Colleen Van Matre recently said over coffee at Starbucks. “We felt like we could have someone in our home and we could make a more lasting impact on their life.”
The impact became even more lasting on Nov. 19, 2018. That’s when Steve and Colleen adopted then 12-year-old Morgan after having fostered her for the previous couple of years or so. Morgan had been in state custody since she was 4 and in and out of foster homes, but now, at 13 and an eighth grader at Thompson’s Station Middle School, she is finally feeling connected with her very own family.
“It’s been wonderful,” Morgan said, “because I know I get the same home that I can grow up in and I know I don’t have to keep going back and forth to foster homes.”
The Van Matres and Morgan are typical of a foster family’s relationship with a child, and the thought process that takes place when considering adoption. The situation can be challenging, but it’s ultimately rewarding.
“Morgan had been through two failed adoptions, so she carries a lot of baggage, a lot of trauma,” Colleen said.
“Morgan vacillated. ‘Do I want to be adopted? Do I want to go back and find my biological family?’ Her family of origin is not healthy in any respect. She really needed time to come to grips with all of that herself. I think with the failed adoptions prior to us, she would get all excited and everything would be going great, and then they’d start going downhill to the point that she needed time.
“As soon as we were presented with her information, I just felt like in my spirit that we really have to pray whether or not God wants us to be her forever home, whether we’re the best family for her. There have been ups and downs, but there are more positives.”
A home and a family forever
Other than reuniting a child with their original family, one that has improved and reconciled the conditions that had led to the child’s being taken into custody in the first place, the top priority of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is to find adoptive homes for foster children. About 80% of the children who are adopted from foster care are adopted by the families who already are, and have been, their foster parents, according to the DCS website.
“The thing that’s so special about adoption is, you’re giving that child a home and a family forever,” said Lyndsay Wilkinson, senior manager, Development and Communications, for Youth Villages of Middle Tennessee, a child advocacy nonprofit that works with foster and adoptive families. “If they go away to school, they’ll have a place to come back to on holidays. They just have someone they can call to be there or spend holidays with. It’s what makes a family.”
‘A faith decision’
The Van Matres, who have been in Tennessee for nearly 13 years, fostered about 10 children while they were in Ohio and raising their biological children. They were inspired by friends who were fostering and also had young biological children themselves.
“Being able to see that another family could be highly successful doing this meant a lot,” Colleen said. “They had young children and we had young children.
“I kind of had this stereotypical idea of what foster children looked like in my mind, and it was a scary picture. But watching them do it was probably one of the biggest affirmations that we could do this.”
Even now, as they raise Morgan, the Van Matres are fostering two boys ages 8 and 10. Of course, they still play their parental roles for their biological children, the youngest of whom is a sophomore at the University of Alabama. And not to forget, they’re busy with their jobs as well — Colleen is a special education teacher at Spring Hill High School and Steve runs a nonprofit called the Lampstand Project and is CEO for Rainmaker Productions.
“For us, I think it’s a faith decision more than anything else, believing there are people that God intended for us to help,” Colleen said. “I feel very privileged to be able to do what we do.”
For more information about the adoption process, visit www.youthvillages.org/adoption or call 1-888-MY-YV-KID. To see profiles of children currently available for adoption in Youth Villages care, visit https://yvadoption.wordpress.com.