‘From the beginning, my heart went out …’

The few details Don Stovall shared with his wife broke her heart. Twenty years ago, as a Newton police officer, Don occasionally saw bad things happen to children. Usually, he kept it to himself, but after a friend brought a foster child to Brenda’s daycare, he began to share more. One incident, in which a 3-month-old baby died, affected him especially. Shortly afterward, the Halstead, Kansas, couple began discussing the idea of becoming foster parents.

“That was the hardest part of the job,” said Don. “Brenda thought maybe we could give them a safe place to be while their parents get the help they needed. I wasn’t sure at first, but she just kept persuading.”

“My heart was with these kids – and with the parents,” said Brenda. “I thought we could help them. So, once we made the decision, we were both on board. We did the training and never looked back. We’ve enjoyed every single year.”

Somewhere along the way, they began caring for medically fragile children, which included shaken babies and children born of drug- or alcohol-addicted mothers. Their three biological children now live on their own, and of the Stovalls’ four adopted children, two still live at home. One of them is Oscar, who was a shaken baby.

“Medically fragile babies are challenging because of their medical needs. They have lots of doctor appointments,” said Don. “But the hardest part is getting attached to them. It’s hard to let them go.”

Brenda agreed.

“Yes, I think it’s because we already worry so much about them that it’s even easier to get attached. Don’t get me wrong, we love the reintegration process; it’s a joy when a child gets to go home. But it’s hard, especially if you’ve had them for two years.”

Even so, Brenda and Don are right now fostering three children, a couple boys, both under the age of two, and a medically fragile 10-year-old girl.

They insist the rewards outweigh the difficulties, even when it comes to sending a child back home.

“From the beginning, my heart went out to these mothers,” said Brenda. “You realize that anyone could be one mistake away from getting their kids taken away. So, we have to look at it from the angle that these parents need help too. They’re broken as much or more. I’ve always told my moms, ‘I’m here to help you with your baby. I’m not a threat to you, and I’m not trying to take your child. I’m working alongside you.’

“The biggest reward is seeing these little ones heal, and their families get better. That’s amazing.”

This story originally appeared in the 75th anniversary issue of Hi-Lites. You can view past HiLites here.