by Moira Cullings
LAWRENCE — It wasn’t part of her plan.
“I never sat down and said, ‘I want this huge family’ or anything like that,” said Patti Fisher.
But when she and her husband Steve realized they couldn’t have biological children, the couple began to foster.
Since then, the Fishers, parishioners at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence, have welcomed around 30 foster children into their home and adopted two of them.
“The kids that are with us are family,” said Patti.
“It’s very meaningful to share our lives and our hearts with these kids,” she continued. “And maybe [we] only make a difference for that one night, but hopefully it’s something they carry with them.”
‘We’re here if they need us’
The Fishers started their foster care journey in 2012 and have since taken in children aged nine months to 18 years old.
When they first met Prudence (Pru) and Shawn, the siblings were three-and-a-half and one-and-a-half years old.
The Fishers fostered Pru and Shawn off and on until they finally had the opportunity to adopt them in 2017.
“I think God knew what he was doing putting them with us and us with them,” said Patti. “I have grown in my faith because of these kids. And a lot of that has happened since the adoption.”
Steve said the adoption process was exciting and stressful.
“It was ups-and-downs with the court system,” he said. “I prayed on it for a long time. When we were hoping to get kids, we were praying to get these kids.”
The couple was under the impression that Pru and Shawn might move back in with their biological father, but while they were waiting to find out, they turned down the possibility of adopting other children in case things worked out.
“It was hard,” said Patti. “We didn’t want to put words in God’s mouth. [Our mindset was] we’re here if they need us.”
The couple had built a relationship with Pru and Shawn over the years.
“We had them for a long time in foster care with us,” said Steve. “We never sent them on respites when we went on vacation. They went with us.”
Once the Fishers finalized the adoption, the road ahead wasn’t perfect.
“At that point, some of the trauma was exhibiting itself,” said Patti. “We were focusing on [the children’s] needs.”
But the family was also relieved by the benefits of the adoption.
“We didn’t have to register where we were going or staying when we went on vacation,” said Patti, and the kids were allowed to partake in higher-risk activities, like jumping on a trampoline.
The latest trip the family took was particularly special.
“We went to a water park for four days in Wisconsin,” said Patti, “then we went up and visited some relatives.
“We visited the first Marian apparition site [in the United States]. Then we saw a cathedral and stayed in Chicago. And the kids are interested in that stuff.”
Becoming a family
Pru and Shawn remember little about their adoption.
“I was kind of nervous but a little happy because I’d get to have a home and some good food to eat,” said Shawn, now 10.
The family enjoys an active life together.
“Every day, we’re usually really busy with something,” said Pru, now 12.
Pru has a passion for drawing and sketching, while Shawn likes football and cars. They both love to cook.
The family has continued to open their home to foster children, mostly short-term placements.
Both Pru and Shawn appreciate the opportunity to help other children in need of a loving home.
“It’s a chance to do stuff that we probably would never have done,” said Pru. “We help with brushing their teeth and getting them to bed.”
Shawn said it can get lonely when a child leaves “because I had someone to play with — maybe a boy or girl who likes to play cars with me.”
But the family keeps in touch with the foster children when they can.
‘God is bigger than this’
Pru and Shawn have embraced another aspect of life with the Fishers — their Catholic faith. The siblings were baptized on June 11, 2017.
The children’s biological mother always encouraged Patti and Steve to take them to church while they were in foster care.
Now, they attend St. John the Evangelist School in Lawrence.
“It’s been a lovely fit for them,” said Patti, who said the small class sizes are especially beneficial.
“I like that we get to pray,” said Shawn. “We pray at the beginning, at lunch and then at the end [of school].”
Shawn said God “gives me hints” about homework.
“I feel like he’s in my brain sneaking answers sometimes,” he added.
Patti said the children are curious about Catholicism. Steve said they listen along with him to Father Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” podcast. Pru enjoys listening to Father Chris Alar online.
“They’ll ask us about something they hear at church or something about the faith,” said Patti. “It kind of motivates me to know more about it and be more involved as a role model for them.”
Shawn said he’s grateful to be part of a Catholic family.
“Shawn’s a kid that hears a siren and he drops a prayer,” said Patti.
Patti witnessed a prime example of his faith during a family day at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg. When faced with a large climbing wall, he hesitated at first.
“Then he said, ‘God is bigger than this,’” said Patti.
Life as adoptive parents has been full of surprises.
“We end up doing things that we wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Patti.
‘It feels like it’s never enough’
Most couples stop fostering once they’ve adopted, but not the Fishers.
Since adopting Pru and Shawn, they’ve mostly done short-term placements but have also had one long-term one — a boy they fostered for 18 months.
“It doesn’t feel like we do so much,” said Patti. “It feels like it’s never enough.”
For the most part, fostering with adoptive children has been a smooth transition.
“It’s a different set of questions we have to ask when we’re presented with kids,” said Patti, “because we’ve got to make sure that they’re age-mates with these guys and they don’t have behaviors that could be detrimental to these kids.”
They also have to make sure their children are a good match for the foster children, she added.
When it is the right fit, the experience has been positive for the entire family.
“It’s a lot of fun because [Pru and Shawn] share in it with us,” said Patti. “I think they’re a lot of the reason that we still foster.”
The children have been role models for those they’ve fostered, and Pru once asked Patti why they couldn’t adopt more kids.
“Pru and Shawn are always so great about helping kids that come here understand what our expectations are and where things are,” said Patti.
“But they’re also great at sharing their belongings,” she added, “because they remember not having much.”
‘They’ll be changed’
Life with adoptive children is “very lively,” according to Patti.
“And we get to see things through their eyes,” she said. “Before the adoption, we got to take them to see Santa for the first time.
“Though we didn’t have them totally from the beginning, we got to make up for it some.”
Steve said he’s learned a lot about himself since becoming a foster and adoptive parent, and when struggles arise, he turns to prayer.
Having the support of their parish community has also been a source of strength.
One family whose child attended Sunday school with Pru made a point to visit the Fishers the day before Pru and Shawn’s adoption.
“They came over and had sparkling cider and silly string and all this stuff to celebrate,” said Patti. “At that point, we didn’t know them very well. But they wanted to help us celebrate, and we’ve grown so much closer to them.”
Patti said that not everyone is called to adopt or foster, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get involved in the ministry.
Offering something specific is most helpful to foster families — like mowing the lawn or cooking a meal.
“A lot of people may think when someone in the church has a new baby to bring a meal over,” said Patti. “You don’t always get that same kind of support and that love [when you foster].
“We’ve got people that come and still walk our dogs from [the time] we had our little 5-year-old [foster child] and couldn’t get home in the evening to walk them.
“There’s any number of things that could help besides fostering that free a foster family up to care for the kids.”
Patti said helping a foster family or becoming one is incredibly rewarding.
“People who help — they’ll be changed,” she said.
“People say, ‘I can’t help because I’d get too attached to the kids,’” she continued. “That is one of the misconceptions — not that we don’t get attached — but you can let them go with love.
“The amount of hurt reflects the amount of love that you’ve given them. And you just have to trust that love has given them something they take away from you — a little part of your heart.
“And then when you do miss them or when the kids miss their [biological] parents, we pray.”
To read more about how you can make a difference in foster care ministry, click here.
Myths vs. Realty
Patti Fisher shares a list of common misconceptions about fostering and what the realities are.
Myth #1: Children in foster care are problem children.
Reality: Most children in the system are not there because of anything they did.
Myth #2: I won’t have any say in the children I foster.
Reality: Foster parents have the opportunity to ask questions about the child before accepting placement. If you identify certain needs you are unable to meet, you can decline the placement. (The Fisher family ensures there won’t be a concern about dogs, for example).
Myth #3: I am not qualified to help a child who has experienced trauma.
Reality: There is required training, and workers and other specialists, as well as other foster families, are available to support you and the child.
Myth #4: I have to be married to become a foster parent.
Reality: While there are requirements, marriage is not one of them. Single people can foster, too.
Myth #5: Someone has to stay home.
Reality: If the child is not of school age, funding for children to attend day care may be provided so long as the foster parent(s) are attending school or work.
Myth #6: I have to own my own home.
Reality: Foster families live in a variety of settings, including rental homes or even apartments. The arrangements simply have to meet the qualifications of room size and safety factors set out.
As of 2021, KVC Kansas reported that around 437,000 youth are in foster care across the country. In the same year, according to the Kansas Department for Children and Families, 6,895 youth were in foster care.