‘What’s one more?’ The revolving door of a foster family
Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017
Jessika Reed has eight children, including seven who are adopted and four who have special needs. As if that wasn’t enough, Jessika has also cared for many foster kids during the past 15 years, constantly welcoming children in need into her home.
In fact, she was so eager to parent foster children that she was granted a special exception to become a foster parent before the age of 21, usually the legal minimum. The state granted her that permission at the age of 20 so she could adopt triplets born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Now, 15 years later, her family continues to grow.
“I have never ever given anybody a number of kids I actually want to adopt…I just don’t want to say it out loud,” she said. “I just have the mindset that I’m a loving parent, I can take care of these kids, so why not just open your home to one more? What’s one more? What’s one more? Because you’re giving these kids a life that maybe they’re not going to have if they just get lost in the system.”
As in any large family, the oldest children play a big role in helping out around the house and taking care of younger ones, and being an older sibling to small children with special needs comes with a unique set of challenges.
Four of Jessika’s children require special medical care and education. Zealynd, 5, has cerebral palsy. His motor skills are similar to those of an infant, and he must be fed through a gastrostomy tube five times a day.
All four of Jessika’s children with special needs attend Lauren’s Institute for Education in Gilbert. Cassara, 12, was born missing part of her brain. She now has a cochlear implant and has some developmental delays. Parys, who is also 12 years old, and Jayden, 17 months, both have Down syndrome. Jayden is still in the foster care system and lives with his grandmother, but Jessika takes care of him during business hours.
Despite the emotional roller-coaster of welcoming children in and out of her home for days, weeks or months at a time, Jessika continues to take in infants and young children whenever she is needed.
“I always tell them that if you have a baby that needs a home, just bring them to me and we’ll love on them, because that’s all these kids need,” she said. “Everyone wants to put the problem off on someone else. Oh, there’s foster parents out there…Somebody needs to step-up, and I’m willing to, so I am going to do it.”