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A loving home

A Hillsboro family changes the lives of foster children through adoption

Staff writer

Over the past 12 years, Janice and Randy Claassen of Hillsboro have changed the lives of many children as a foster family. They made their house a home for all who came through their doors. For four of those children, the Claassens also became their permanent family through adoption.

Jayme McGhee, now 21, was in two foster homes before the Claassens took her in at age 9. A Type 1 diabetic, Jayme was abandoned places without insulin when she lived with her biological mother, sometimes having to find her own way home. She received sporadic treatment for diabetes before age 9.

“Since I was diabetic I was a hard foster child to have,” Jayme said.

She went through third grade in a haze and her grades suffered. When the Claassens took her in, she began receiving daily doses of insulin and she caught up when entering the fourth grade at Hillsboro Elementary School.

“I had a family in the Claassens,” Jayme said. “In other foster homes I was afraid to do anything. Here there were kids my age. You just feel like you’re accepted.”

The Claassens are one of 20 foster families in Marion County. Including their three biological daughters, they have had as many as seven children in their home at one time. Janice said they have had about 20 foster children. A report by Kansas Social and Rehabilitative Services states there were 6,384 children in the out-of-home placement system in 2010 in the state.

What separates the Claassens from other foster families their willingness to adopt to bring in groups of siblings. Jayme and Josie are sisters. Peter was the Claassens first foster child. They quickly brought in his older sister, Katie, who was 5 years old at the time.

“Especially for children who don’t have any family to go back to, we want children to be a part of our family,” Janice said.

They adopted Peter after three years; Jayme and Katie soon followed. Josie is the last of their adopted daughters.

The Claassens are also unafraid to bring in teenagers. Lottie is Jayme and Josie’s older sister. She joined the Claassens when she was 14. Lottie is bi-polar and brought her own peculiarities to the home. Before she was comfortable, Lottie had to search through everything in the Claassen’s kitchen.

“She fought us a lot,” Janice said. “She had grown up in the world. She did not like the boundaries.”

Because Janice knew of the situation in Jayme’s home, she asked a caseworker about adopting Josie after she was born. The caseworker wanted to give the mother chances, and Josie stayed with her biological family until she was 5. However, when she visited her sisters, Josie told the Claassens about what was happening in her home.

“She told me stuff about mom doing drugs,” Claassen said. “Then she had bruises. Policy representative after policy representative said she had been left places. I was in tears.”

Claassen communicated with the caseworker to arrange for Josie to stay with them.

“This child is not leaving my home,” she said.

The Claassens also attempted to adopt Lottie, but she wanted independence and moved back with her biological mother.

“We’ve bought her two cars,” Janice said of Lottie. “We’ve gotten her jobs. We still have worries and we always do.”

Janice said her childhood ambition was to be a mother; that is all she wanted to do. She was interested in foster care 12 years ago but Randy, a doctor in Hillsboro, was reluctant. He was unsure of how a new child would affect Ashley, Angie, and Alysha.

Janice believes foster parenting was a calling. Appropriately, Randy changed his mind at church. After a church service, one of Randy’s friends told him that his grandson was being placed in foster care. Inspired by his friend, Randy and Janice took in Peter when he was 4-months-old.

“I have a heart for the grandparents,” Janice said. “A lot of times they did nothing (wrong).”

Peter and Katie see their grandparents weekly and spend Easters with them.

The Claassens have tried to keep relationships open with biological parents as well, at least when that relationship is healthy. Peter and Katie see their father once a year. Jayme periodically talks to her mother on the phone.

“I can’t get over that mom or dad wouldn’t take me,” Katie said.

While they have had to discipline their adopted children and foster children alike, the Claassens feel that gaining their trust is more difficult and important. With abandonment always being an issue, reliability is a trait Janice has tried to convey to her children.

“We’re human; sometimes we forget,” she said. “Even if I’m early (to come pick them up), they’re frantic.”

Many of the children were born with disorders stemming from fetal alcohol syndrome. These can cause children to be quick to anger, which could be taken out on the Claassens’ home.

“Holes in walls, cabinets broken, windows broken, those things can be fixed,” Janice said. “The heart of the child is what’s important.”

The only action the Claassens will not accept is threatening or hurting their children. One previous foster child threatened Katie and had to leave the home.

For the most part, Jayme and Katie agreed that their relationship with the Claassens’ three children and other foster children has been positive. Jayme said she feuded with Alysha, who is the same age, but eventually they became best friends. Jayme is going to be Alysha’s maid of honor in her wedding this April.

Katie, who is now 15, similarly fought with another teenage foster child before they became friends.

To help them get along, the whole family eats meals together, plays games, goes to church, and participates in other family activities.

Katie, Peter, and Josie said they are usually excited when they hear Janice on the phone talking about bringing in another child. Occasionally, there is apprehension.

“No we don’t want anybody else,” Janice has heard them say.

“What if we would have done that for you?” Janice asked them.

Jayme has contemplated that question frequently. At 21-years-old, Jayme is married and has two children: Malachi, 21 months, and Miridia, 8 months.

“I would probably never have married,” she said. “I probably would have been pregnant. I probably would have been in jail.”

Before Malachi’s birth, Jayme also thought about what type of mother she would become. She wondered if she would be like her biological mother or like Janice. She decided to work hard and carry on the parenting techniques she learned from Janice.

“I think we’ve all been blessed,” Jayme said. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities.”

Jayme has also thought about her feelings toward her biological family. Jayme said she is still hurt by the situations that led to her entrance into foster care.

“I think eventually I’ll forgive them,” Jayme said.

Her mother, too, shows signs of wanting to heal old wounds.

In a period of sobriety, Jayme and Josie’s biological mother hugged Janice and thanked her for providing a loving home for the two girls — daughters she loved enough to know they were better without her.

Last modified Feb. 2, 2011

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