Growing up my dream was always to become an actress. I loved the humorous aspects of the theatre and had the quirky acting personality of Amanda Bynes. The left-sided brain that I am, however, drew me towards a more practical career choice, and I ultimately decided to attend University to become a psychologist and make a great career for myself.
One day in my senior year of high school, however, I found myself reading the book Charla’s Children by Charla Pereau. It was an outdated and simple book that my aunt had gifted me about the life of a missionary who worked in an orphanage in Mexico and had adopted many of the children. Despite the insignificant appearance of this book, it changed my world. I knew, after reading that book, that I wanted to adopt children and somehow be involved with kids without families. Initially, I envisioned working in an orphanage just like Charla, though I wasn’t sure yet how I would get there.
Enter my first year of university. I landed a job at a local restaurant and saw a cute chef in the back cutting vegetables. Assuming he was a dignified and accomplished chef, I went up and started a conversation. I was in that weird stage of asking odd questions at inappropriate times in a conversation, so I introduced myself, began some small talk, then dove in deep: “What do you want to do with your life?” I am shocked he didn’t run away.
Daniel proceeded to tell me he wanted to work with orphans and open an orphanage overseas. As he talked, I used all of my willpower to not shout out at him “Ohhhhh I will open an orphanage WITH YOU!” I do try, just a little, to not come across as crazy to men I have just met. Instead I replied back, cool as a cucumber, “Oh cool, I would like to work in an orphanage too.” And that was that. I knew instantly I was going to have a life with him, crazy or not, so I asked him out.
Without going into the details of our dating years and engagement, I will sum it up and say we fell madly in love. I discovered he was not an accomplished chef but a senior in high school (gasp!), he proposed a month before graduation, and we were married a little over a year after meeting at the ripe ages of 18 and 19 years old. To capture the amount of people who thought we were crazy would be impossible. But he knew God had big plans for our lives and we intended on following His path.
Our first year of marriage was just like anyone’s: getting our parents to co-sign for our auto insurance since we were underage, playing board games, hanging out with friends, and enjoying our time together. We began talking about our dreams and future plans with children and soon realized God was directing us in a slightly different direction. We felt a tug at our hearts to provide a forever family for children rather than open an orphanage. We immediately started looking into adoption. It didn’t take long to discover the thousands of children in foster care waiting for a forever family, many with special needs, and we knew instantly it was the right fit. A year after getting married, at 19 and 20 years old, we began the adoption process. Our social worker told us we were one of the youngest couples in our province, and once again we had many people call us crazy!!
Roughly a year later, after criminal record checks, medical reports, extensive training and education, we were almost complete with our home study. We had one more appointment to go when our social worker sat us down and told us she thought we should put things on hold for two years. She went on to tell us that although she supported us and knew we had the skills and ability to parent, on paper, we still looked like teenagers and it might be challenging finding a match (meaning other social workers needed to find our profile appealing). Daniel had just begun his carpenter apprenticeship, and I was working at a bank, but we were young, renting a basement suite, and really…we were young. Did I mention we were young? She said that we could finish our home study and then put it on hold, and come back in two years and look for a match then. We went away, and being the young teenagers we were, we decided to do exactly what she said. That weekend we went and bought our first condo, and gave notice where we lived. The following week we went back to her office to finish off the home study and put everything on hold. As we walked in, we saw a funny look on her face and knew something was up.
Our social worker had a proposal for us. A proposal meant that they had a child in mind and wanted to see if we were interested in adopting that child. Our jaws dropped. A proposal? I thought we were too young? I thought we were going on hold? Instead she told us about a baby boy who was 2-months old and in need of a forever family. We had always been told children waiting in foster care were older, so we were shocked to discover that he was only a couple of months old! She explained that he would be ready to come home in three weeks. So naturally, given the fact we had just given notice for our home, didn’t have one baby item to our name and zero baby experience, WE SAID YES!
Three weeks later we pulled into the home of our son’s foster parents, and met him for the first time. This was the day when I first discovered that love at first sight existed. We walked in and fell in love the second we saw him. He was so tiny and precious and we knew right away we had made the right decision. I wonder if the foster mom was questioning why social workers sent over a couple of teenagers!! Since I had very little baby experience, I took the next week to watch how the foster mom cared for him, changing diapers, making bottles, and attending specialist appointments. We also began learning about her journey as a foster parent. She was a “safe baby” foster home, who took infants prenatally exposed to drugs and alcohol. It was fascinating to hear and we valued so much seeing that our son had been living in such a loving and nurturing home for his first two months of life.
The day we were finally allowed to bring him home, we were driving in the car and I turned to Daniel and said, “I can’t believe they are letting us drive with a baby!” Little did I know just how much more our parenting journey would include! We spent the next few months loving and enjoying our time as new parents. Our son was doing amazing and was the biggest blessing we had ever experienced. Through this time, however, our hearts began to stir. Our time with his foster mom had left an impression on us, and we knew right away we wanted to become foster parents. Ten months after bringing our son home, we opened up as a safe baby foster home. Once again, we were called crazy by our friends and family but we started to see the Word in a new light. We started to own it. Call us crazy, sure! We knew we were crazy for kids who needed families!
Over the next few years we had many children come and go in our home. Two of them, a brother and sister, each coming to us at their birth, became part of our forever family, as we were given the opportunity to adopt them. A year later we were also blessed with another daughter from birth whom we adopted as well. We now had a lovely little family of 4 children: newborn, one, two and three years old, and various foster children that came and went, too. On most days, we were parenting four to six children.
Through this journey, as beautiful and bright as it had been, it was also lived out amidst pain, grief, and loss in the child welfare system. I saw gaps, I saw needs, and I knew I wanted to be involved in deeper ways. Through the power of God, I decided to return to school and become a social worker. I didn’t know how long it would take, but I knew I wanted to start. Somehow, I managed to complete my degree in the required four years, and began working part-time in the heart of the child welfare system. I had the opportunity to experience the child protection side as well as the fostering resource side. Through these years, however, we had been placed with a newborn through fostering that eventually led to his three younger siblings being placed with us, as each of them were born. When baby #8 was born, I knew it was time to quit my part-time work and stay-home once again.
Raising my eight beautiful babies was a blessing, and warmed my heart. There were days where we walked to the park, enjoyed games, and baked cookies. Most of my children also have FASD. So other days involved breaking dishes, throwing furniture, swearing, hour-long meltdowns, and many, many, many specialist appointments.
Despite the crazy moments and the chaos of our lives, my passion for children without families still ran deep. During an offhanded conversation one day with fellow adoptive moms, someone jokingly suggested we open up a Christian adoption agency. Right there I said, “Done! And you will all be the board of directors!” At the table of Boston Pizza, I founded our charity, Home for Every Child. We became a national non-profit registered charity, and instead of becoming an adoption agency, we instead support all things adoption and foster care related through awareness, advocacy, education, and support. Our goal is to help recruit foster and adoptive homes so no child is left waiting, but also provide the education and support for those families once they bring their children home. We offer funding for post-adoption and fostering needs, and walk families through their journey—all at no cost. I’m able to run the charity from home and so I get to spend everyday with my children, while carrying out my passion too.
These days raising eight kids isn’t easy. Our youngest is now two-years old and our oldest is fourteen. Some of them have huge challenges, while others have none. Despite the challenges we have undergone, I wouldn’t change anything for the world. My understanding of the child welfare system, however has grown, and the gaps between foster parents and the agency has become glaringly obvious and my desire to seek change has only grown. I’m now working on several books to improve relationships with foster parents, and hopefully create change in the child welfare system. My knowledge of FASD and related special needs has grown drastically and my focus and passion as a social worker has shifted as I’ve walked this journey as an adoptive and foster parent. My goal, today, is to encourage each of you to get involved in some way. While not everyone can adopt or foster, everyone can support kids from hard places. In the US there are more than 400,000 kids in foster care, and more than 100,000 of them are waiting to be adopted. In Canada, there are more than 80,000 kids in foster care, and more than 30,000 of them are waiting to be adopted. If you want to find out more ways you can get involved, you can contact Home for Every Child at www.homeforeverychild.org.
Amanda Preston is an adoptive and foster mother to 8 children, a social worker, blogger, and runs a national charity focusing on advocacy, awareness, education and support for all things adoption and foster care related. She is passionate about special needs, and is an advocate for change in the child welfare system. In her spare time she enjoys reading, writing, and dancing.
Connect with Amanda