Photo by Madoline Markham.
0512 Hamilton Family
McKinley, Joelle, Ellie and Anne Merrick Hamilton play a board game with the foster twins who were a part of their family for more than a year.
Life isn’t like it used to be for the Hamiltons.
“Fostering, like parenting, is the hardest job you will ever love,” Joelle Hamilton said.
The family, including daughters Anne Merrick (16), McKinley (13) and Ellie (8) became the foster family to four-year-old twin girls in 2010.
“Not only did John and I have two new daughters, but the girls also had two new sisters,” she said. “And, our baby became the middle child overnight.”
The experience was also life-altering for the foster children.
“They were removed from their home, their families, their pets, their preschool and their favorite toys, which was extremely stressful,” Hamilton said.
The children went through a grieving process, and working through all those issues was challenging, according to Hamilton. “You can read about it, and talk about it, but only when you live it, do you understand how intense it is,” she said.
But still, the rewards of fostering far outweigh the challenges for the Hamiltons. Hamilton’s voice cracked with emotion as she spoke of all the joy the family experienced with the twins: “It was like grandparents watching their new grandchildren.”
There was always a little anxiety but for Hamilton there was much joy in watching kids who went through a really hard time grow, mature and learn how to deal with grief and anger—and to then watch the children become part of the family, community and the church. It was very special.
“We were blessed. I am passionate about loving, protecting and caring for all the Lord has given us. And children are our most precious gifts,” she said.
Becoming a foster family was not an impulsive decision for the Hamiltons. They became interested through the orphan ministry at their church, Covenant Presbyterian. Another factor was the emphasis on orphan work at The Church at Brook Hills and its “Radical” sermon series.
The family prayed long and hard before making the decision to become a foster family. As a first step, they enrolled in a 10-week group preparation and selection class held by the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home (ABCH).
After the classes, the next step was the licensing process, which normally takes six to nine months. Once licensed, the Hamiltons opened their home to the twins.
The twins remained with the Hamilton’s for more than a year, but fostering is not permanent. It is the goal of the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to reunite the children with their biological family. The twins’ biological family worked with DHR, and they reunited in March.
The reunion was a whirlwind for everyone. The twins had a few overnight weekend visits with their family and did very well, according to Hamilton. The judge encouraged the Hamiltons to interact with the biological family, which gave them a chance to get to know them.
“It’s been very rewarding and encouraging for us,” she said. “It’s clear they love their children so much and have spent their life trying to get the children back.”
Hamilton said the first weekend the twins left for a home visit left her feeling vulnerable, like when she drove home with her first newborn baby in the backseat of the car. “What if something happens to them, and they get hurt?” she thought.
The twins’ family invited the Hamiltons to a family event after the reunion. “It was a privilege to be included,” she said.
The Hamiltons plan to take a brief break from fostering to spend some individual family time together.
“Last night John and I drove to church together (the girls went separately), and we felt like honeymooners and grandparents all at the same time!”
For those interested in becoming foster parents, Hamilton suggests attending the 10-week classes at ABCH. “That’s a perfect waytofindoutiffosteringisrightforyou,” she said.
For more information on the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home, visit www. alabamachild.org.