Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.
When the DCCH Center for Children and Families became officially licensed as an adoption agency in 2001, they knew very few of the 150 children who would find forever homes thanks to their help.
Ron Bertsch, director, therapeutic foster care, adoption and independent living, said he started as the only staff person for what was then a residential program in 1999, and finalized the first adoption in 2002. What drove him was the need for permanence for the children.
“We realized a lot of our foster families had children that now were not able to safely go back home, and the families were interested in adopting … that’s what spurred us to go and get our adoption license,” he said. “We want to help see these families and children all the way to the end, not turn the case back over to the state agency.”
The first 100 adoptions were from 2002 to 2018, but the last two years have seen 50 more. Mr. Bertsch said it’s because DCCH has grown and improved.
The DCCH is unique in that the children are older and usually have histories of severe neglect and abuse. The prospect of fostering and eventually adopting through the therapeutic foster care program can be daunting. “It’s not a calling that probably everyone can do, so I think it takes somebody special to answer this ministry call and foster and adopt an older child,” said Mr. Bertsch.
However, said Mr. Bertsch, many families have shared that while it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done, it’s also the most rewarding. “A lot of people have this fear that it’s going to be harder than they can manage and I’m not saying it’s not going to challenge you — it requires sacrifice and extra time and work on your part as a parent, but to know that you helped a child who has had a rough start in life to turn that around.”
He connects foster care and adoption work to the pro-life movement. “To me, it’s not just helping stop an unplanned pregnancy from termination — yes, we want to work to support the birth mother and father in those situations — but also, being pro-life means to help children who have not been aborted who are in our world, who are being abused and neglected and abandoned … just because they’re 10 years old or 15 years old doesn’t mean they don’t need help from our Catholic and pro-life community.”
To celebrate National Adoption Month, the DCCH reaches out and recognizes all of its past adopted children and families. This year, they created a logo with the numbers “150” surrounded by a heart, formed from the first names of all 150 children who have been adopted.
“It’s an emotional moment because to me it marks 150 lives that we’ve had a small part in helping them find permanency, in finding them forever homes,” said Mr. Bertsch. “It’s humbling and yet very inspirational to be able to see that and look back on my career to know that I was part of every one of those kids’ lives during that time. I helped train a lot of the parents, held their hand during the rough journey through that, through the triumphs and stepping stones during the healing process.”
One of the greatest moments from this year, he shared, was getting back in touch with Corey, the very first child that DCCH placed for adoption. “I had lost contact with him in his young adult life, but someone else ran into him and I was able to reach out to him and meet for lunch … To sit down and hear his life story, from 12 years old when I first met him, to now he’s 31. It pulled it all together for me. I was so proud of him and it was so fun to talk to him.”
Most of the children, if they were old enough to remember the DCCH, have kept in touch. They like to reach out and every once in a while Mr. Bertsch gets an update from the family.
Julia and Dakota Geiman, for example, are fostering a 15- and 11-year-old girl and boy. Julia and her siblings were fostered through DCCH and adopted in 2004. Julia knew DCCH was a big part of their life for more than 9 years, and her older sister kept in contact with staff from DCCH into her adult life.
“I knew DCCH, trusted them and had a history with them. It was natural for me to call DCCH to explore becoming a foster/adoptive family,” she said.
Julia and Dakota have found fostering to be very rewarding for them. Julia’s biological siblings are and have always been very close to her. They love that she and Dakota have opened up their home to other children, who like themselves once upon a time needed this kind, generous and loving home life. Even Dakota’s family have embraced the idea and all are very supportive of the new members of their family.
Retired Mike Fury and his wife Peggy Fury adopted Destine, who just turned 18 this year. “We married late in life but wanted to have a child to love. We’re a long, long ways from perfect, but we knew we could offer a child a safe environment, and that might be enough to save a life,” they said. “We would say to approach it not from the perspective of ‘What might happen to us if we adopt,’ but rather from the perspective of ‘What might happen to this child if we don’t?’ It’s not always sunny skies, but it is very rewarding, and we believe it is Kingdom work.”
Mr. Bertsch and the DCCH are always looking to find more foster or adoptive families, mentors and donors.
“Some people think they’re too old, but we love empty nesters in their 40s or 50s — before they get too accustomed to empty nesters, when they still are fresh on raising teenagers, I want those folks to call me,” he said. “They certainly can help by saying a prayer for healing of the children and for more families to step up and answer that call. This is a different type of vocation, but I know there are people who can do it.”
Anyone who is interested in fostering, adopting, mentoring, donating or spreading the word can call the DCCH at 331-2040.