Economy Down--Children in Missouri Foster Care Up

Economy Down--Children in Missouri Foster Care Up
By: Lauren Keith

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - More and more families are struggling, especially young, unwed mothers.  That means more children are going into foster care and even being placed up for adoption, according to the director at Lutheran Family and Children's Services in Cape Girardeau.
Director Molly Strickland says adoptions are up domestically, but especially the number of children being placed into temporary foster care through their private non-profit services.
Strickland says while it's extremely hard for the mother giving up her children, her decision grants a wish come true for other families, much like the Aufdenberg's of Jackson.  In fact, you could say it was a double surprise.
"I was out in the store and the cell phone rang and I was excited.  They said there's a catch though--there's two!  I said I'll talk to Donna tonight, but I don't think it's going to be a problem," laughed Don Aufdenberg, recalling the phone call from Lutheran Family announcing twin girls were ready for their adoption.
"I mean what do you say?  Of course, it's yes.  You've already been told you can't have children," said Donna also recalling the initial phone call.
The Aufdenberg's didn't look back once...or twice.  At just five weeks old, Don and Donna received twin baby girls they named Kaitlyn Elizabeth and Lauren Maria.  They had just a few weeks to buy an extra crib, another high chair and more toys, and they couldn't have been happier to do so.
"The minute they brought them into the room, it was like oh my gosh!" said Donna.
"We have twins in the family.  My brother and sister are twins, and I have twin nephews.  The girls just fit right in," said Don.
Don and Donna also consider themselves lucky because they're willingness to accept twins meant their names only sat on the Lutheran Family and Children's Services waiting list for six months.  LFCS director Molly Strickland says the average wait is two years.  The average cost is $15,000.  She stresses many financial programs are available to help offset the fees, and says statewide, Missouri adoptions are significantly up because of the economic downturn.
"Statewide, we are seeing young mothers who have three or four children who are struggling and saying I can't do this," she said.
Strickland also believes because the birth mother selects the adopting parents through the church-based agency, more struggling mothers are choosing this private service now more than ever.
"They're saying I want something better for my child and I know I'm not going to make it.  I think we'll see an increase of parents who don't want their children to go through a state system, but actually want their children to get into a family relatively soon," said Strickland.
While the Aufdenbergs received their children last year before the recession, they say they wanted to share their story now in order to give hope to any couples considering adoption in the Heartland.
"Raise them understanding what adoption means.  They're still a part of our family, we'll love them no matter what.  They're my children, they're our children," said Donna.
"You can't imagine the enjoyment of having these two.  I wouldn't give anything not to have them.  It's all been worth it," said Don.
Meantime, a higher number of struggling mothers are placing their children into foster care in the Heartland as a way of temporarily stabilizing their families.  That means the need for foster parents is exceptionally high, says Strickland of LFCS. 
The poster-foster parents of the organization are unofficially Bob and Susan Rafferty of Jackson.  The couple has fostered infants and toddlers for the last 15 years, or half of their married life!  Bob and Susan both say it's their way of "giving back" and helping.  The two keep scrapbooks and follow-up with the infants once in their care.  The two raised their own two children and say having foster children alongside that was "challenging but a great lesson of love and responsibility for the whole family."
Meantime, the biggest fundraiser for Lutheran Family and Children's Services is the Holiday Home Tour going on Saturday.  Money raised helps families and children served by the agency. Tickets are $20 in advance.  They're $25 dollars at the door on the day of the event, Dec. 6th.
Advance tickets can be purchased at: Sunny Hill Garden Center, Bank of Missouri-Cape and Jackson, Patrick's Furniture, Southeast Missouri Hospital Gift Shop, Wanda's Coiffures in Cape, and at the LFCS office.