Meg and John Cole became foster parents 19 years ago, sparked by admiration for friends at their Waterville church who were fostering. Fostering a child provides a temporary safe and nurturing home until a permanent living arrangement becomes available. The Coles had three children of their own, one of whom was autistic, and planned to continue growing their family. When they saw the great need for foster families Meg says they, “talked and prayed as a family about it, and all felt that we could make a difference….so we started on the journey!” And what a journey it has been.
Their first placement happened while they were living in Massachusetts. They took in a sibling group of three children with special needs, ages 1, 2 and 3. A real hands-on learning experience! Fortunately, all three children were able to move to pre-adoptive homes before the Coles returned to Maine.
Meg’s background in the medical field and raising an autistic son gave the Coles experience with and sensitivity to children with special needs, so it was a natural choice for the family to provide foster care to children with high needs. Through the years, they have most often taken children into their home with multiple medical and mental health issues. As Meg puts it, “We like to involve ourselves in challenging cases—get in as early as possible—make the biggest impact we can.” In some cases, that impact has extended to adoption.
The Coles have adopted two children and are in the process of adopting a third. Meg continues, “How lucky we are to have been given this opportunity to effect this much change in the lives of these children AND be able to reap the benefits of the gifts that they bring to us! Raising all of our children has given our lives purpose and meaning and has increased my husband’s and my faith in each other and in the power of family.”
While the Coles have worked with birth parents on reunification, some children do not return to their original homes. Meg says, “We believe in the work, believe in the power of change, and believe in families.” She acknowledges that each case has ended in a way that served the best interest of each child, but feels, “It’s sad to have seen biological parents not be able to make lasting change so they can care for their children.”
Over ten years ago the family became affiliated with Spurwink. At the beginning, Spurwink had contracted with DHHS as the ‘Maine Caring Families’ program. When Spurwink opened their own Treatment Foster Care program, the Coles signed on. Meg says, “I can’t imagine doing this work of caring for special needs children without Spurwink! The support, advice and concern for your family as a whole as you negotiate the system is invaluable. In fact, in our latest case where extensive medical issues would have certainly afforded us a (higher) medical rate through DHHS without Spurwink case management, we rejected that in order to have the expertise and support of Spurwink. We’ve not regretted that decision for a minute! Jaynelle Smith, top of the line case manager, has supported us in so many ways, as has Patty Riddle, family support specialist.” Meg believes the support Spurwink offers helps her to stay focused on the family as a whole, guarding against her taking on too much and potentially burning out. Jaynelle and Patty help manage the daily nursing and therapy visits their foster son requires due to his multiple medical needs; they advocate for him by making sure his needs are met and that the various team members are informed and updated. Meg says, “That we couldn’t have served and cared for our special needs little man as effectively (without Spurwink) would be the understatement of the year!”
The Coles met their current foster son when he was just three days old. DHHS was looking for a family that would be willing to take on the challenge of parenting a preemie with multiple medical issues. Meg and John travelled to Maine Medical Center two or three times a day. Meg notes, “I was blessed to be able to step in and hold him close and give him that bonding time right away.” Although they would not receive the foster care stipend until he moved into their home, they “went happily and did all that we could to help him thrive and to work with doctors and nurses to identify the issues and begin to formulate a workable treatment plan.” Since then, “Day by day, surgery by surgery, with the help and support of therapists, medical professionals, the Department of Health and Human Services and our wonderful Spurwink team, this little guy is doing so well today! We feel so fortunate to have him with us, and know that the gifts he brings to us far exceed what we have done for him. He is truly a sweet, sweet spirit!”
Feel free to contact me at 615-5878, or complete an inquiry form online at www.spurwink.org/fostercare.
Rana O’Connor, Resource Coordinator, Spurwink
Margaret Cole, D.Hom, Foster Parent