- Associated Press - Sunday, February 18, 2018

ANSTED, W.Va. (AP) - Seated on a plush sofa under a cursive sign that says “family,” Christy and Brian Beaver cradle 7-month-old identical twins. One boy, one girl.

The little girl gently tugs on Brian’s white and gray beard, while the little boy wraps his tiny hand around Christy’s ring finger.

“They’re my day,” Christy says. “From the time I wake up of the morning, they’re my day. A friend asked me, ‘What are you going to do when they leave?’ I have no idea.”

The twins are only a temporary part of their lives. Christy and Brian are their foster parents.

The babies were born two months premature in late June 2017. They were diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a condition resulting from drug exposure during pregnancy. Shortly after birth, doctors had to intubate the little girl for feeding because of her withdrawal.

“Two days after they were born, we got the call to take them,” Christy says.

The twins had to remain at the hospital to complete their detoxification, but they came home with their foster family the first week of July.

Even after detoxing, Christy says the twins suffered from side effects.

“They both had severe tremors. I took a video one night of her. She shook for about two hours. You can swaddle them, hug them, do all these things, but it’s just the drugs leaving their system.”

The Beavers know what to look for. They know about how long the conditions will last. The twins are their 45th foster children, and their 18th specifically with drug exposure.

“You get so many emotions,” Brian says, looking at the little girl on his lap. “You feel for the kids. Your heart goes out to them. You get angry a little at the parents, especially the mother. You just run the gamut of emotions. And you pray.”

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The need for foster parents is great. The need for foster parents who can take on specialized cases is even greater.

“A lot of people say everybody wants babies, and that’s true,” Christy says. “But a lot of people want healthy babies. The babies we get are not always healthy. They have challenges.”

As of January, 6,352 children were in the state’s custody, with nearly 1,500 in therapeutic foster care, meaning the children have some sort of exceptional need, either physical or emotional.

Mary Carr, a permanency supervisor at Children’s Home Society of West Virginia, says the opioid epidemic has played a huge role in the demand.

Children’s Home Society is one of 12 agencies contracted by the Department of Health and Human Resources to place children with foster and adoptive families.

“Yesterday, just at our site, we saw referrals for at least a dozen kids come through,” Carr says. “They need homes; there’s just not enough foster homes available. All our homes are almost full to the brim. Some have four, five and six kids. Six is the max.”

The Beavers work with foster agencies throughout southern West Virginia, and they get calls every week asking if they can take more children. Two is all they can handle - Brian works full-time, and Christy is a full-time foster mom.

“Even two infants at a time is a challenge, but we make it work.”

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They didn’t plan on fostering long-term. At first, they wanted to adopt.

When they made the decision 11 years ago, they had two biological sons, ages 10 and 11. But Christy had always longed for a little girl.

They placed a foster-to-adopt application with the DHHR and began a six-month process of background checks, fingerprinting and 40 hours of classes about fostering.

On their paperwork, they listed their preference as a girl under the age of 5. Their first placement was temporary - an 18-month-old girl whose foster family was going on vacation.

“She fit in from Day One. When she left, it was devastating,” Christy says. “But it made it more real. We knew that’s what we wanted.”

They were given a few more temporary placements over the next three years, but finally, they had a chance to adopt. At the last minute in the process, a family member stepped in to take custody.

The same happened the following year.

“It was heart-wrenching,” Brian said. “I was ready to walk away, but we talked about it and prayed about it, and realized maybe adoption wasn’t the path we were supposed to be on.”

Instead, the family decided they would clothe, feed, house and love the children God placed into their lives for however long He deemed fit.

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Each year, foster families are required to take 12 hours of additional classes. Through the continuing education, the Beavers took therapeutic classes, which included information about the effects of drug addiction.

After completion of those courses, the Beavers could take on more specialized cases, like the twins they currently foster.

Their first specialized case came about six years ago.

“She weighed just under 5 pounds when we brought her home from the hospital,” Christy says. “She was deaf from drug exposure in utero.”

The same day the Beavers brought the little girl home, her mother was arrested for injecting drugs in a public park.

Brian says at that point, they knew they wanted to focus solely on these children. They ordered books online. They researched and studied all the material available to them. They wanted to help.

Back then, the Beavers actually had to administer medication to help wean the child from drugs.

“I was very nervous about administering anything to a teeny, tiny baby. The pharmacy would pre-fill syringes, and I would go back every three days for the meds.”

Christy says within the last four years, hospitals have taken over the withdrawal process, and while she’s grateful fosters no longer have to, she knows an additional burden has been placed on nursing staff.

“When a baby withdraws, it’s basically the same symptoms as an adult,” she explains. “The child could have tremors or seizures, and they cry a lot. They’re uncomfortable all the time. Everything hurts. Everything is over-sensitized - light, hearing, everything. They have digestive issues - vomiting, diarrhea. Everything that adults go through, babies go through.”

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Brian and Christy swap babies - he now bounces the little boy on his lap, while she gives a bottle to the little girl. The little boy coughs loudly.

“They get sick very easily,” Christy explains, as their immune systems were compromised with their premature births.

They’re also delayed developmentally. They’re just starting to roll from their back to their side, but that should have started happening two to three months ago.

They’re working with a team from Birth to Three, a statewide system of services and supports for children who have developmental delays, which has greatly improved the twins’ progress. But not much is known about the long-term consequences they could suffer from in utero drug exposure.

As biological parents themselves, it was difficult to come to terms with the reason why these babies were suffering.

“As most people, we were very judgmental in the beginning,” Christy says. “We fought for the kids, not for the parents. But once we were able to come to terms with the fact that they’re only human and everybody makes mistakes, we wanted to start helping. It made it easier.”

She takes a deep breath and says, “The best thing I can tell you is all of us are one situation, one injury with prescription drugs, away from being these people. It doesn’t matter your upbringing. It doesn’t matter your background. It doesn’t matter. We’re all one struggle away from being exactly where they are. Once we realized that, we wanted to start helping.”

Reunification used to be fairly common, the Beavers say. Now, most kids who are a temporary part of their lives find long-term homes with family members or permanent homes with adoptive families.

As of January, the DHHR reported nearly 3,000 of the children in the state’s custody have been placed with a relative.

Ultimately, the Beavers just want what’s best for the kids.

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Next month, they’ll take the twins to a court hearing. The biological mother and father will present a plan to the judge about how they plan to get their lives back on track.

Ultimately, the parents would like to reunify with their babies.

“I’ve spoken to Mom and Dad several times,” Christy says. “They’ve asked us to stay involved if they get the kids back.”

Any time the biological, adoptive or custodial parents will allow them, the Beavers like to stay in contact with the children they’ve welcomed into their lives.

“I like to tell people I have 45 kids,” Brian says with a laugh. “People get some crazy looks on their faces until I explain.”

He means it when he considers them his own.

“We had one group of three siblings for almost a year,” Christy says. “When you spend holidays and birthdays and everything with these kids, they’re part of your family.”

Brian says it’s OK to feel hurt when they leave. It’s OK to be human.

“It can be trying at times, but don’t let that stop you. I used fear as an excuse to try and keep from doing this. The emotional side, the financial side, the fear of getting attached. If you embrace that, you grow from it, and you gain so much from it. It’s really kind of easy. You just love them.”

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Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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