Can you imagine losing count of your kids? It could be quite easy if your home was as open as Karen Quinn’s. She and her husband have been foster parents over the course of three decades to “well over 30” foster children. They adopted five of them and are legal guardians to another.
Karen’s husband is a deacon, and when one of their adopted daughters, Jaime Hill, was set to get married in 2014, he offered to officiate at the wedding. She didn’t want that as much as she wanted him to walk her down the aisle. “It took a lot for me to get a dad,” she says, “and I wanted him to be a dad that day.” Three of her adopted sisters were among her bridesmaids that day, too. Now in her thirties, Jaime and her husband have two children.
I often think of foster care as similar to the lives of military families. So few Americans know what it’s like. Both require tremendous sacrifice. We couldn’t survive and thrive without it. In one case, we are talking about the protection of a nation, along with serving others. In the other, we are talking about lives, of individual innocent children, that can be transformed by loving parents willing for their hearts to be expanded to recognize and provide whatever this one vulnerable child may need. Right now, with opioid addiction adding to the need for foster parents around the country, testimonies like that of the Quinns need to be told, to help inspire others to consider taking up this work of the heart for children. But the reason they are in the news is the legal battle over religious liberty.
Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is legal adviser for the Catholic Association Foundation. In an amicus brief associated with a case, brought by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, that could be taken up by the Supreme Court next term, she tells the story of the Quinns and just some of the lives they’ve touched. It’s between the City of Philadelphia and Catholic Social Services of the local archdiocese, which for over a century has been working with government there to place foster children in homes. The city stopped the partnership because of Church teaching on sexual morality. But whatever one thinks of same-sex marriage or any of the other hot-button issues that do hit at the heart of family life, people like the Quinns are exactly the kind of people whom children like Jaime need. Adults should not let their differences of opinion impede this vital service that faith-based agencies such as Catholic Social Services provide.
The Quinns first came to foster care after answering a parish-bulletin request about Jaime, who was then four years old. Then Debby, at two, and Gus, at eight. “Gus was a skinny little boy, and Debby had a very sad face. Her eyes were not alive when we got her,” Quinn told Picciotti-Bayer. After a few months in a stable, loving home, Debby’s eyes “lit up.” That’s when Quinn realized she was in this work for the long term.
“It is difficult when a child leaves after being with them for so long,” Quinn explains about the life of a foster parent. “When a child leaves, a small part of you leaves with them. You have to hope that you were there for a child when the child needed help. When people ask me ‘Why do you do it?’ I respond that my faith teaches me to respond ‘Why not?’ I can’t help the whole world, but I can help one baby at a time.”
As so often is the case with foster and adoptive parents, Karen Quinn couldn’t have opened their home and hearts as they did so consistently without the support of a faith-based agency, which in this case was Catholic Social Services. Besides providing the Quinns with information, it helped them meet material needs and navigate any changed regulations and health-care needs. It’s an invaluable partnership.
The child whom the Quinns most recently received into their home was a baby girl born with serious addictions. After she was taken to live with a relative in February 2018, the Quinns were preparing to take another child until the plug was pulled on the city’s partnership with Catholic Social Services. Now the Quinns remains waiting, as children wait.
Jaimie Hill doesn’t know all of the reasons she wound up in foster care at four, but she does know that there was abuse in her past and that it was a significant head injury that led to her placement in foster care. About the current limbo that Karen Quinn finds herself in, as a ready and willing foster mother, Jaimie explains: “My mom is waiting for that call at 3 in the morning, on the off chance that someone is going to need her for three hours or three years. . . . As I got older, I understood that my mom believes that being a foster mother is her calling from God. It is deep in her soul.” Reflecting on her own life with the Quinns, she said, “I’ve got to keep fighting for all these other kids so that they can have the life I had,” because “a foster home is the difference between life and death” for some children. . . . “If you have a good foster home — one where a parent treats you like their child — you can make it. Without one, you can fall through the cracks.”
“CSS needs to keep open. It saved my life.”
As Picciotti-Bayer observes, “not everybody can foster or adopt, but each of us should do all we can to support loving homes for needy kids. Barring Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services foster-care program because of the agency’s beliefs on marriage is an affront to the freedoms in the Constitution. And, perhaps more tragically, it closes a door for children in Philly needing homes free from abuse and neglect.”
“More, not less” has to be our mantra when it comes to foster-care and adoption. Defending freedom happens to be not only right and just — it can be a lifesaving business.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.