‘The world would be a better place if all the mothers were like you.” Kelly Rosati’s 16-year-old “little Vietnamese tsunami” put on her card for Mother’s Day. There was a time when Rosati didn’t think such sentiments were possible. Let’s just say she’s been called things less endearing than “Mom.” There have been suicides attempts. Probation. Cutting. Bulimia. Even right now, her adopted daughter isn’t at home but temporarily living in a residential program. “It sounds like a failure,” Rosati said this past week, while in Sierra Madre for the California Catholic Conference’s annual convening of pro-life and family leaders from across the state. “It isn’t. It’s about being healthy. Our kids have come to understand that.”
“In our family, we are Korean, Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Micronesian, Italian, and Irish,” Rosati shares with whomever will listen. Her four foster children all encouraged their mother to talk about their lives and struggles “as long as it might help other people.”
That there were hundreds of “modern-day orphans” in her own community was news to Kelly Rosati and her husband, John, almost 20 years ago, even though they’d been “involved in the pro-life movement forever.” Living in Hawaii at the time, Rosati had been asking questions about how to become an advocate for adoption. She was a lobbyist, and she was ready to change laws, remove obstacles. But quickly it became clear there was something more powerful than policymaking to be done. “We are a family and we have a house and we have love to give.” The next move seemed clear.
“Talking and praying abstractly about the things that break God’s heart is one thing,” Rosati writes in her book, Wait No More, named for the program she started at Focus on the Family to connect families with children who would otherwise languish in foster care. “Seeing and hearing needs up close and personal — in your face, literally — is clarifying. There was no way we could see what we were seeing — precious faces, voices, and lives of real kids in desperate need — and go back to our comfortable life unchanged.”
Among the stories she tells is one of a little boy who told a judge that he didn’t believe in God: “Because I pray every night to God to let me see my brother who is in another foster home, but I never get to, and my social worker says it’s because there aren’t enough people to drive me. If there was a God, He could get enough drivers.” Rosati not only opened her home but has also dedicated her life to making sure there are drivers and families who would consider sibling groups, too, being led by the need and “how God wants to fill your home.”
If you get involved in fostering and adopting out of foster care, you can’t be looking to fulfill an adult need.
Rosati was one of the speakers in January at this year’s March for Life, where the theme was “Love Saves Lives.” At the conference before the March for Life, she said, “The love that saves lives is not soft sentimentality. It can often be a very difficult journey.” It will be frustrating, it requires perseverance, and there will be many regulatory “headaches.” People ask her whether the process should be easier. She’s not as interested in that as she is in lighting a fire under her fellow Christians to open their hearts and homes. The training required to be part of a wraparound support network in your local church — or to undergo the process of foster care, with its home studies — helps prepare parents. If you can’t handle the process before, you’re not going to be able to handle what’s about to hit you after you have a foster child in your home or have adopted a child out of foster care.
So she sugarcoats nothing: This is hard work, but the most important work. She also doesn’t have to say “they are so worth it,” because her love for these children overflows in every word.
If you get involved in fostering and adopting out of foster care, you can’t be looking to fulfill an adult need. “Because these kids come to you empty,” Rosati stresses, in many cases suffering from trauma. “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted” is one of her favorite lines from Scripture, she says, and you have to have a heart as tender at the Passion and as glorified at the Resurrection to love these kids.
“Trauma changes the brain,” she says, talking about the myriad mental-health issues children, even young ones, face. “It takes a different kind of parenting to help them heal and become everything God intended them to be.” She knows this intimately because her son Daniel was born addicted to crystal meth. “Two of my kids’ birth mothers have schizophrenia.” Mental illness, she explains, “is one of life’s toughest challenges, but God is there.” Yet another of Rosati’s children had been homeless; theirs was the sixth home in which he was placed. He was four years old and not potty-trained; once they met him, the Rosatis were determined that he was not going to another home, that he had found his home.
Adoption and foster care must be a priority for people who considers themselves pro-life. When the Archdiocese of Los Angeles recently realized that there were 34,000 foster children in their city and they aren’t doing enough to help them, they didn’t start a new department. Instead, they quickly tapped in to models and networks already in existence, many of them successful in Evangelical churches, to connect families with foster children and wraparound services. The city of Philadelphia, despite its recent campaign to support foster families, is pushing Catholic Social Services out of being a partner with them in solving the problem. We’re in need of more, not fewer, people of good will who can provide help. These children need people making foster care and adoption a priority in every church in America in a deeply personal way.