Foster parents fill 'empty nest' with 25 children
Dan and Verna Higbee have been involved with the Utah Foster Care system for about 11 years. Over the years they have taken care of over 25 children and each one has left an indelible mark on their lives. In the living room they have a clock hung on the wall with some words they have lived by ever since they became foster care parents: "Families are forever."
The Higbees had one son of their own but soon they found out afterward that having more children of their own would not be a possibility. So they first turned to adoption, bringing into their home a 16-year old girl and 14-year old boy from Korea. Because of the ages of their own child and their adopted children, the house quickly became empty. Having an empty nest was not something Verna enjoyed.
"We took a break for a little while and then we became empty nesters," Higbee said. "I didn't like that at all."
Looking to provide a warm and loving home, the Higbees then turned to the foster care system. Bringing in children and making them feel like part of a family was very important to Verna, considering the backgrounds of some of the children they have taken care of.
"I love the kids. I was brought up with a wonderful home life and I wanted to provide these children with that," Higbee said. The Higbees try to keep the children as long as they can before the children age out of the foster care system at 18.
Helping out children is nothing new to Verna. For the last 20 years she has worked as a teaching assistant at San Rafael Junior High. Much like she experiences at school while working with students, at home the foster children teach her things like diversity and patience. In turn, the Higbee's work really hard to make sure the children learn to get on the right track in life after all they experience going through the foster care system.
"We try to give them a different view of life," Higbee ferent view of life," Higbee said. "They get to learn things like how it feels to be a part of something like the school band. The children learn they can have fun without things like alcohol and drugs."
Currently the Higbees are caring for seven children ranging in ages from five to 18. The children are quickly taught that they are a part of a regular normal family and there are responsibilities and rules they must follow.
"They have chores to do and they are accountable for their actions," Higbee said. "Everything we do as a family, they are a part of us," which includes attending church and taking vacations.
While the Higbees do their best in trying to keep everything in order, such as trying to have seven different personalities and backgrounds around each other every day, chaos can erupt at any time. While that might seem difficult to handle, Verna does her best to keep things in perspective.
"I just try to go with the flow of things," Higbee said. "I try to keep everyone's schedules and make sure they are on time, just like a regular family."
Dan Higbee looks at the chaos in the house from a different viewpoint.
"There is never a dull moment around here, that's for sure," Dan said.
While the Higbees view the children and themselves as a family, they also try to branch out by including the biological parents in the children's lives as much as possible. They keep in contact and plan out visits whenever possible, creating an extended family.
Adding to that extended family would be the caseworkers the Higbees work with on a regular basis. Their hard work and very supportive attitude make things go more smoothly especially when problems arise, Verna said.
As the children get older and age out of the foster care system, the Higbees find it hard to say goodbye. Even after the children leave, the Higbees try to stay in contact with them, seeing where they go and what they accomplish along the way.
"It's a thrill to see when they accomplish things like graduating from school or joining the military," Verna said. "It's a payoff that you can't put into words."
Sometimes the Higbees are presented with the question from another person asking how they could love someone's kids that are not of their own. It's a tough question that comes with an easy answer for Verna.
"The children need a mother. The best job in the whole wide world is being a mother," Verna said.
Currently there are only two foster care families in Ferron, with the Higbees being one of them. Verna wishes more people would take the opportunity of being a foster care parent, helping give children that need a chance to succeed in life and a warm place they can call home. The opportunity of helping another is something Verna hopes she will see throughout the rest of her life.
"I feel it's a good system and I love working with DCFS (division of child family services)," Verna said. "These kids are going to remember this place and me when I'm 90 years old."