Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Dec. 10, 2009
Our View - Iowa needs more families willing to open homes
The story of Steve Harland and his former foster parents -- the Bevelheimers -- is definitely a heart-warming holiday tale. After all, it was Christmas Day 1959 when a 14-year-old Harland came into Lee and Ellen Bevelheimer's home in Henry County, Ill., and became one of the 180 temporary foster children cared for by the couple. And it's almost 40 years to the day after that yuletide introduction that Harland and Lee Bevelheimer, now 93 and of North Liberty, left the Johnson County Courthouse as father and son.
But this inspiring story also is a timely reminder that foster care parents are needed just as much today -- if not more -- as they were 40 years ago.
"Will Iowa ever have enough foster and adoptive families?"
That's one of the questions appearing on the Frequently Asked Questions page at the Web site for Iowa KidsNet, the Department of Human Services subcontractor who now handles many of the administrative functions of the foster care program in Iowa (www.iakids.org).
The answer is a resounding "no."
"Unfortunately, the need in Iowa is ongoing throughout the state," the Web site reads. "Children continue to enter the foster care system and foster and adoptive families leave the system."
Iowa KidsNet also reports that there is no such thing as a typical foster family. The Bevelheimers had opened up their home after being seriously injured in a car accident in 1961. Because of their disabilities after the crash, they preferred young children as opposed to school-aged children.
But the families involved in today's foster care programs include:
• Single-parent families.
• Families with children still at home.
• Families with older parents who already have raised their own children.
• Families that represent all races, ethic groups and religious backgrounds.
Some families care for a wide variety of children, others -- such as the Bevelheimers did four decades ago -- prefer specializing with one age group, with one sex or with specific special needs children. And although 21 is the minimum age to become a foster parent in Iowa, there is no maximum age -- it all depends on the foster parents' ability to care for a specific child.
Only a small percentage of foster care relationships end in adoptions. The primary goal of the program, of course, is the eventual reunification of children with their birth families. But -- as was the case with Harland, whose mother had died when he was 4 years old and who ran away a decade later -- some children simply cannot return home.
Although Harland never left the Bevelheimer family, he never became an official member. Ellen Bevelheimer died in 1989. Over the years, Harland moved to Missouri, where he works on a farm; and Lee Bevelheimer moved to Country View Retirement Home in North Liberty. About two months ago, Harland got a phone call saying that Lee Bevelheimer wanted to finally adopt him.
On Monday morning, Bevelheimer and Harland made it official when they appeared before a judge and completed the adoption.
"It feels good," Harland said.
If you'd like help extending that good feeling by opening your family to children who need foster care, call Iowa KidsNet at 800-243-0756 or the Iowa Foster & Adoptive Parent Association at 800-277-8145.