Opening their home and hearts

Jim and Wendy Shapiro of Edmonds have fostered 24 kids in the last 15 years
By David Pan | Mar 28, 2019 Edmonds Beacon
As foster parents, Jim and Wendy Shapiro have taken care of 24 children in the last 15 years. The Shapiros later adopted one of those children, Kai, 8, who came to them when he was a baby.
The numbers were startling to hear.
Jim and Wendy Shapiro were listening to a sermon by their pastor at church.
He was talking about the foster care system and how 2,000 children in Washington were in need of a home.
If every church in the state had just one family willing to step up and adopt a child, the pastor said, there would be no more children in the system.
The pastor’s words resonated with the Shapiros.
“Part of my personal motivation was just to respond to that,” said Jim, who is entering his 23rd year as head football coach at King’s High School. “We need to do something to help these kids. We have one family that can do one thing. We can take care of kids.”
The Shapiros also had some firsthand experience with an orphanage in Mexico. As part of a church mission, Jim and Wendy, along with their two young children – son Atley and daughter Gracia – spent a week to 10 days for five summers volunteering at the orphanage.
“I think that started to help us see the need out there,” Wendy said.
The Shapiros’ church later started an adoption ministry and on one Sunday, a 12-year-old boy was introduced. The congregation was told he had six more years to figure out what family looks like.
“We looked at each other and said we could do that,” Wendy recalled.
The Shapiros started on the paperwork to become a foster family, but before the process was completed, the boy was placed with a different family.
“We said we’re already halfway done with the paperwork. Let’s just keep going and see what happens,” Wendy said. “So we did.”
 
No babies, no teenagers
 
Jim and Wendy had definite ideas on the ages of the children they felt they could best help.
“When we started doing it, we said we don’t want babies. We don’t want teenagers,” Wendy said.
The Shapiros soon discovered that children of all ages needed them.
In the last 15 years, Jim and Wendy have taken 24 children into their home in Edmonds.
“We’ve had four days. We’ve had five years old. We’ve had 14-year-olds,” said Jim, co-owner of the Better Fundraising Company, a consulting firm that works with nonprofits. “We’ve had boys. We’ve had girls. Different races. You name it, we’ve seen a lot.”
Some children have stayed for only a couple of days. If another foster family needed a break, the Shapiros might take in a child for the weekend. Other children have lived with them for weeks and months. Jim and Wendy fostered one child for a year and a half.
The reasons children are removed from a home vary and often the exact details are not always shared with foster families.
The top five reasons children are placed into foster care are neglect, parent drug abuse, physical abuse, inadequate housing and caregiver inability to cope, according to 2017 data provided by the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families.
The common thread is that the state has determined the child needs to be in a safe environment.
The foster care system gives the parent or guardian an opportunity to work on the issues that resulted in the removal of the child from the home, Jim said.
The state placed 6,444 children into the foster care system in 2017. Of those children, 56 percent were reunited with a parent or guardian. The child was adopted in 21 percent of the cases and was placed in a guardianship in 7 percent of the cases. Other exits accounted for 9 percent of the outcomes and 7 percent of the children remained in the foster care system.
The Shapiros have noticed that sometimes the children who come to live with them experience a wide range of emotions.
They may have a sense of relief that they are out of a dangerous or unhealthy environment. But at the same time, they may feel some anxiety because they are moving into an unfamiliar environment.
Wendy noted that some children actually feel more comfortable in a chaotic environment and it can be difficult for them to transition to a quieter home.
“I think kids are pretty resilient too,” she added. “So when they come from a background that’s not so great, they learn to adapt to it.”
Lovely, a 5-year-old girl, was the first child to come live with the Shapiros. Jim remembers her as an anxious and angry girl, who swore a lot.
Lovely stayed with the Shapiros for about four months and by the time she left, she was a different girl.
“She turned out to really be lovely,” Jim said. “You really could see her demeanor change. She stopped swearing. We like to pray before we eat dinner. … Early on she was like – whatever. By the end, she was blessing the food before dinner. It was pretty cool to see her just soften up.”
Lovely was returned to her grandmother’s care, but did not remain there on a permanent basis.
“We don’t know where she ended up,” Jim said.
Foster parents have few rights when it comes to following up with the children. But several of the Shapiros’ foster children, by their own choice, have stayed in touch with them.
Jim and Wendy understand the goal of the foster care system – reunification.
“It’s designed to be a temporary relief, so that mom and dad can get their life back in order,” Jim said.
 
New friends, hard goodbyes
 
Atley grew up living with foster children in his home for much of his life,
Looking back, the Shapiros’ 19-year-old son appreciates his unique upbringing.
“It was kind of just like having different friends come in,” said Atley, a freshman at Biola University in La Mirada, California. “I really enjoyed just the different experiences that I had, especially with the younger children, as well.”
The hard part for Atley and his parents was when it came time to say goodbye to a child they had grown to love.
“It’s definitely difficult after they’ve been a part of the family for a while,” Atley said. “After a couple of months, I’ve created that bond with them. It’s hard seeing some of them leave. It’s something you have to get used to because they’re in and out so fast.”
Wendy focuses on what’s best for the child.
“You get attached for sure,” she said. “For the moment in time that you have them, it’s important for you to love them and show them what that looks like. You’re not doing it for yourself. You’re doing it for them.
“Yes, it hurts. But the option is not to have people that invest in their lives and care. They’re in the system for no reason of their own. So they really deserve the best care they can have.”
 
A welcome addition to the family
 
After the birth of Atley, Jim and Wendy weren’t necessarily planning to have more children.
However even before they had Atley, the Shapiros felt that adoption might be in their future.
“There are plenty of kids out there who need a place to live,” Wendy said. “They don’t have to be our biological children to be a part of our family.”
One such boy came into their lives when he was four days old.
“We were pretty much told this case is such that you’re going to be able to adopt him,” Jim said. “So we raised him for about seven months.”
The circumstances of the case changed. The father of the boy found a job and his life stabilized. The boy Jim and Wendy loved and planned on adopting was placed back with the father.
“Obviously, you want the son (to be) with the father, but it was very emotional,” Jim said. “For me, it was painful. You lost the child because you mentally thought you’re going to be able make this kid be a part of your family.”
After experiencing several similar disappointments, Jim and Wendy decided they were done with the idea of adoption. They were too emotionally drained.
“Then we got the call on Kai,” Jim said.
A 6-week old boy needed to be placed in a foster family. The state said there was a potential opportunity for the Shapiros to adopt Kai. But because they had experienced so much heartache with other children they wanted to adopt, Jim and Wendy did not get their hopes up.
Days turned into weeks, which turned into months. Eventually, a year went by.
Then a year and a half after Kai came into their lives, Jim and Wendy officially adopted him in December of 2011.
“It was a great day, a celebration,” Wendy said. “Lots of the family was there. Some friends. … It was exciting and great for us.”
Even though Kai had never lived with his birth mother, Wendy was thinking about her and her place in Kai’s life.
“There’s a part of you that feels bad for the loss that he’s had and his mom’s had,” she said. “There definitely is still that part of it. There are a lot of emotions.”
 
‘He’s just happy all the time.’
 
Kai Shapiro might be best described as your typical 8-year-old. He keeps his parents on their toes all the time.
“He’s a bundle of energy. He’s a talker. He loves to communicate,” Jim said. “He loves to read. He loves to color. He loves the art side of things.”
Much to his father’s delight, Kai also enjoys playing sports, including football, basketball and soccer. Kai can be seen on the sidelines at King’s football games and sometimes even at practices.
“He’s just happy all the time,” Wendy said. “He loves to meet people.”
Kai and his birth mother have visited and he has talked to her on the telephone.
“We’re pretty open. We’ve had conversations about it,” Wendy said. “At this point, he doesn’t have a lot of questions. ... That may change in the future. Right now, she kind of seems more like an adult friend.”
Atley revels in taking on the big brother role in the family, a role he wasn’t able to have with older sister Gracia, who is 22.
“He’s always making me laugh,” Atley said “His comments are always just hilarious. … We get along really well. He’s just really fun to be around.”
Eating is a big deal for Kai, who devours pancakes for breakfast with his parents on the weekends and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch during the week. His favorite dinner is spaghetti. Kai occasionally gets treated to doughnuts, cookies and Gatorade, although he doesn’t get to have them too often.
“I eat a lot of healthy food,” Kai said. “One thing I do not like to eat at all is broccoli. I like it once in a while but not so much.”
Kai said his favorite class is physical education and that he especially enjoys learning more about Jesus at school.
At home, Kai plays video games and has a sizable toy collection. He and his father have been known to engage in wrestling matches.
“I have a nice family. I have a nice home,” Kai said. “Some people don’t have that. So I’m very thankful.”

To learn more on how to become a foster parent in Washington, go to: www.dcyf.wa.gov/services/foster-parenting/become-a-foster-parent. May is recognized across the country as National Foster Care Month. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Children’s Bureau funds the National Foster Care Month initiative each May in conjunction with the Child Welfare Information Gateway. For more information, visit www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth.