By Chelsea Quackenbush
Photography by Lauren Hollon Sturdy
The modest exterior of the Rice home in Beaumont, Texas, masks the chaos that whirls inside at the dawn of each day.
Sheldon and Precious Rice are foster parents of six children and they say they are always “going, going, going.”
Before they became foster parents, Precious managed a local Taco Bell and learned that many of the teens who worked with her also lived in the foster group homes at the Buckner Children’s Village across town. She developed close relationships with several of them, so close that one of the girls used to half-jokingly beg Precious to adopt her and be her “real mom.”
“I couldn’t at the time, I was too young,” she said. “I said, ‘I can only be your big sister.’ But a few years later, I wanted more kids and I never could have any more so that’s when I decided to just help out the kids who already need help.”
Over the past 12 years, they’ve had at least a dozen foster children and it’s clear that the Rices are loved by them. Precious’s mother is also a foster parent but she mostly takes care of babies. She decided to go through the training after helping the Prices with their kids.
They said their first placement was really hard but taught them “everything we needed to know about being a foster parent.” Once they learned how to navigate hard situations, they realized all the kids just needed someone to love them and provide structure.
Last summer, Buckner foster care staff called the Rices about taking in a difficult child. Brad* and his two siblings were taken from their home due to ongoing incidents of domestic violence and physical abuse. Child Protective Services first brought them to the Buckner Assessment Center where they stayed the weekend.
Once staff discussed where they should go, they talked to a near-by relative and she agreed to take the siblings. A day later, she called and said she could not take care of Brad. He was out of control.
The 6-year-old’s sweet face and soft voice belie the challenges and frustration he caused Precious and Sheldon when he first moved in. He was angry and violent. On his first day with the Rices, he tore apart Sheldon’s truck dashboard and console in seconds during a surge of rage. He tried to hit them and call them names no small child should know.
“He literally tore my truck up. Yanking, kicking, pulling whatever he could get his hands on,” Sheldon said. “When we got back home, he had calmed down and we were on the porch and I talked to him. I said, ‘Brad, you can’t talk to grown-ups like that, you can’t disrespect grownups like that.’ And he was so apologetic like he always is … But some days after that, we had the same type of incident.
“Like Precious said, we have to continually let him know what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. I guess he didn’t know that. But he’s much better. We had some fits from him the first couple of weeks. He was calling us everything you could think of.”
The Rices tried not to take his angry outbursts personally. They knew it was what he had seen at home. They knew he had a lot of anger on the inside and no way to express it. It made them sad to think about it. They knew it was just “a window into his world and where he came from.”
Buckner staff laud the Rices for their openness to taking in what other foster parents might deem as an extremely “difficult” child. Brad has been one of the hardest children they’ve had over the years but after just three months, they’ve seen huge, tangible changes in his behavior and in his character.
He doesn’t get in trouble as much at school. His grades are going up. He’s even starting to make friends in his class. But most of all, he’s stopped cussing and throwing temper tantrums.
“The Rices are just so patient,” said Kristin Wilson, Buckner case manager in Beaumont. “They have so much compassion for these kids. In fact, they still have relationships with several of the kids who have aged out of foster care. That’s how much of a difference they’re making.
“They’re committed. They keep them through the good and the bad. What stands out to me the most is that they don’t judge their kids or blame them when they act out. They know the kids don’t know any better and that they’re likely exhibiting exactly what they saw in their homes. They have such a wonderful way of providing structure, yet having fun at the same time.”
*Name changed to protect identity
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