Renee and Jody Matthews said Heidi and the 15 other children they have fostered — some for long periods of time, others just when their own foster parents needed a break — have given them so much more than they believe they have offered the children.
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“What I’ve come to realize in foster care is while we’re making a difference in these kids lives, they’re making a difference in ours also in positive way,” Jody Matthews said. “It’s just been very rewarding.”
Heidi, now 13, was on the verge of death when the Matthews took her in three years ago after her biological parents didn’t get her treatment for leukemia.
“They fell in love at first sight,” said Theresa Cooper, who is in charge of adoptions at Butler County Children Services. “She just flat out thrived in their home. Heidi was on her death bed, they did an emergency blood transfusion when she was at the hospital and they pretty much told us if we had not found her that day she would not have likely survived another day.”
Heidi is in remission now, according to the Matthews.
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Local child welfare officials have acknowledged the strain on having enough foster families as drug problems continue to surge through their communities.
“Most of the kids we have in foster care are there because of the opiate epidemic,” Bill Morrison, executive director of Butler County Job and Family Services, previously told this news outlet.
And even though the county has been able to reduce the number of kids in foster care by 20 percent in recent years, Morrison said the agency is still feeling the pinch of having to compete with other counties for fewer available foster homes.
The Matthews were empty-nesters several years ago — she has two grown sons, he has two daughters and they have seven grandchildren — when they decided to become foster parents.
The Matthews said things haven’t always been easy, because the children who come to them have been traumatized and have trust and other issues. Still, the couple treats them like their own.
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“We tell them we know we’re not your mom and dad, we’re not trying to be,” Jody said. “We’re just trying to be your caretakers and your friends and your authority also.”
The Matthews have four foster children in their home now, although 19-year-old Destiny has aged out of the system. Josue is 13 and he will be reunited with his biological mother at Christmas and they plan to adopt 12-year-old Eric before the end of the year.
This article contains previous reporting by staff writer Katie Wedell.