SHABONNA – People tell Rebeccah Cies she's a blessing to the three foster children she adopted. In her eyes, it's the opposite.
“They are a blessing to me,” Cies said.
After 20 years, more than 50 foster kids and three adoptions, Cies turned in her foster care license. She plans to focus on the three children she has permanently welcomed into her home, while also being there for her three biological children.
State officials need more people like her.
More than 15,000 children are in foster care across the state every year, reports the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Of those cases, 86 children are in foster care in DeKalb County in 69 licensed foster care homes, said DCFS deputy spokeswoman Veronica Resa.
“We definitely need more foster parents,” Resa said. “We need more bilingual foster parents. We need more foster parents in the places where these kids are from.”
Becoming a licensed foster parent in Illinois requires all members of the home pass a criminal background check. License holders also must complete 27 hours of training, a physical and be financially stable. Being married isn't a prerequisite for becoming a foster or adoptive parent, but perseverance is.
“We hear from foster parents that it can be challenging and rewarding,” Resa said. “Children are challenges no matter what the circumstances.”
Deciding to Foster
Seeing an aunt and uncle adopt 10 children and realizing the terrible conditions some children face inspired Cies, 50, of Shabonna, to foster children.
“I have always loved kids and babies,” Cies said. “I saw a program on orphans in Romania, and I thought there was plenty of work to be done here.”
In 2008, DCFS called Cies to the first of her three “little ones,” as she affectionately calls them. She started fostering all of them within two days after they were born because their biological mother and father were absent from the start, leaving the hospital after every birth.
“I knew from the beginning it would end in adoption,” Cies said. “It was right for me and right for them. It takes about five minutes to fall in love with a newborn.”
Her children, Donovan, 6, Avery, 6, and Anya, 5, all were born with cocaine in their systems, she said. Avery's condition was so dire DeKalb firefighters had to support her breathing while she was delivered in an ambulance. Cies learned of Avery's unstable beginning by chance when she performed an insurance physical on the firefighter who was in the ambulance.
The state terminated the biological parents' parental rights within a year, which Cies said made the adoption process easy.
"Easy" is not a word many adoptive parents would use to describe the process, Resa said.
The goal of fostering is to reunite children with their families. In cases where reunions aren't possible, the goal becomes finding children a permanent home. In the current fiscal year, DCFS estimates 2,435 children will be reunited with their families, while 1,504 will be adopted or placed with a guardian.
Cies also has three biological children, two sons, Max Williams, 17 and Alec Williams, 25, and a daughter, 27-year-old Kendall Page.
Learning her mother was adopting three children was far from shocking to Page. She still remembers the call six years ago when she learned Avery would join the family permanently.
“My mom said, 'It took 21 years, but you finally have a sister,' ” Page said.
She doesn't have any horror stories about troubled foster kids that lived with her family from the time she was 7. In fact, saying goodbye to some of the children is the most difficult situation Page can remember.
Sometimes her classmates would question how Page and some of the foster children could be related, especially if the foster children were any race other than white. But Page recalls the questions were never pointed and the diversity of her family didn't cause problems.
“To us, it was just normal,” Page said. “My mom explained that their parents couldn't take care of them right now.”
Being adopted feels normal to Donovan, Avery and Anya, who Cies said are fully aware of their backgrounds. They have older siblings who feel like aunts and uncles and a mom who loves and cares for them.
Most importantly, Anya said, they give her food and play Barbies.
“I love her,” Anya said about her mom. “She's cute.”
By the numbers
Children in foster care: 86
Licensed foster care homes: 69
Children in foster care: 15,053
Licensed foster homes: 11,400