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A foster mom's view on parenting special needs children for 20 years

God equips the called to care for children with special needs

Paula and Lance Raymond had no previous experience with special needs children. During pregnancy with their second biological child, they learned their baby boy had Down syndrome. The Raymond family trusted God’s plan and welcomed a beautiful boy who has brought nothing but immense joy to them and virtually everyone he meets.

Through the years the Raymond family grew with four biological children and two adopted children. They have also provided a loving and safe home for 45 foster children with special needs. Faith in God’s plan and a passionate love of caring for vulnerable children is what motivated them to serve as foster parents for two decades. 

Providing a safe and loving home for Texas Waiting Children

Lance heard a commercial on a local radio station talking about Texas Waiting Children and how families were needed for kids in the foster care system. This weighed on Lance’s heart, and he and Paula agreed to answer the Lord’s call. When their daughter was 11 and son was 9 years old, the Raymond family trusted God and began a journey of more than 20 years of serving as foster parents to children, including sibling groups, with varying special needs. Paula recalls the 45 children who have been a part of their family. Special needs have ranged from different spectrums of autism to nonverbal children to Down syndrome. They’ve had children with physical disabilities and some with emotional, developmental and sensory challenges. 

Learn each child as an individual to understand their special needs 

Paula sees each child as unique. She and Lance have opened their homes to children with a range of special needs, even when they had no experience with the specific type of need. They were always willing to step out on faith and be the home the child needed. While each experience has taught them more about caring for a child with special needs, Paula says the most important thing to do is just spend time learning about them as a person.

Children with special needs may see the world differently and learn differently and having a loving parent who can help advocate for them as an individual can make the difference in them thriving or never reaching their God-given potential. 

Special education for special needs children in Texas

The local school district has gotten to know the Raymond family well through the years. With each new school-age child who joined their family, Paula went through the necessary process to help gain access to special education services or accommodations. Paula suggests to any parents of special needs children to focus on partnering with the child’s teachers and approach learning goals as a team.

Some children may qualify for individual education plans (IEPs), a 504 plan, or other learning accommodations. By becoming a foster or adoptive parent of a special needs child, you automatically assume the role of advocate. Paula and Lance have cared for children who were nonverbal, so to have a voice, Paula and Lance had to speak up for them. This is where learning the individual child becomes so critical because no one will ever know a child better than a mother or father. You don’t have to be an expert to show love, extend grace and compassion, and to use a voice to help a child gain access to needed therapies or services.

Foster care can be temporary or possibly result in adoption

Having cared for many children through the years, one of the most difficult but also rewarding parts is seeing a biological family able to reunite with their child. Paula and Lance still hear from children who lived with them for a period of time, such as a 10-year-old boy who lived with the Raymond family for 18 months. It can be difficult for a child in the foster care system to be removed from his or her biological family and immediately transition to a temporary family, but Paula emphasizes the most important thing is bonding together as a family, even if this is just for a short time.

Foster parents and children need time to learn each other and that simply takes time, understanding, patience and the willingness to learn. The 10-year-old boy who joined the Raymond family did so toward the end of a school year. Over the summer, the Raymond family bonded and spent time learning his needs, interests and aspirations. By the time classes began in the fall, the school principal told Paula this 10-year-old boy was like a new child. It’s amazing what love, a safe home and compassion can do for a life. Today, this young man is working in a restaurant – he’s passionate about food and loves his job. He still keeps in touch with the Raymonds at 19 years old. If the Raymonds hadn’t answered the Lord’s call, this young man’s life may not be what it is today.  

Overcoming adversity to answer God’s call

Becoming a temporary parent to a child in foster care or adopting a child who has experienced the permanent removal from his or her biological parents isn’t easy. God calls families who have courage to step out on faith and trust him to equip them along the journey. He doesn’t say it will be fast, simple or without bumps, but he does promise blessings. Paula and Lance can attest to the joy they’ve received from parenting special needs children through foster care. Paula used the word “joy” many, many times to describe her experience as a mother to the children she’s parented during the past 20 years.

Another way special needs parents serve is as educators to friends, families and even churches. There’s never a shortage of unsolicited opinions on how to raise children, even special needs children, but unless you’ve walked in those shoes, it will bless a special needs family just to know you care and are there to walk alongside them on this journey. Ways to support a foster family could include a night off from cooking by means of a food gift card or dropping off a meal at their home, or providing respite care so the parents can connect as a couple and have a small break as caregivers.

It could mean advocating for inclusion opportunities at church, such as classes for special needs children and adults. There are likely some special education educators in churches who would be a good resource on how to start programs for the special needs population. Everyone has a right to worship but not everyone gets the opportunity. Even if you aren’t the parent of a special needs child, your voice can help speak up for the families who may feel isolated or overlooked. Training can also be provided to staff to understand the different levels of care needed as a special needs child grows and becomes more independent. 

Celebrating an answered call

The Raymonds have been faith servants in caring for vulnerable children. They don’t do it for glory or recognition. They find joy in each child and appreciate the uniqueness God has woven into their lives. They appreciate having been a part of each child’s life that has been a part of their family’s story.

If you feel led to answer God’s call to care for children in need of a temporary or permanent home, we hope you will give prayerful consideration to this opportunity and find as much joy and blessings as the Raymond family. 

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