The first phone call came almost 20 years ago. It was about a tiny child at St. Anne’s Children Home with shaken baby syndrome. The baby was so frail and mistreated staff were afraid the child would never be able to form a lasting bond with anyone. Terry Beuhl answered the phone that night and after a conversation with her husband, Jerry, the couple decided to make the one-year commitment it took to become the baby’s foster parents.
Today, the couple continues to open their home, arms and hearts to abused, sick and mistreated babies who need a temporary home. As foster parents, they have lost count of how many babies they have held, rocked, burped and changed over the years.
“We have had the most beautiful kids, some we’ve had for one or two years, some just for a short time,” said Terry Beuhl. “But we stopped counting years ago. That’s not what it’s about.”
In December, neighbor Marlene Kornmann nominated the Beuhls for a random act of kindness award sponsored by Consumer Auto Liquidators in Airway Heights – the couple won a 2008 Chrysler Sebring.
“Yes, the car came in handy, our old car is ready to die,” said Terry Beuhl, laughing. “We didn’t even know we’d been nominated. And then Marlene took us out there. What a surprise.”
Kornmann said she’s known the Beuhls since 1998 and nominating them for the award was a spur of the moment thing.
“I saw it on TV and I wrote a last-minute letter, it must have been a good letter I guess,” said Kornmann. “I absolutely adore what they do for the kids and for society. Emotionally, I don’t know how they love those kids so much and then let them go, but they do.”
The Beuhls will be the first to tell you that it was a steep learning curve. Their special needs foster babies arrive tired, malnourished and sometimes very ill, the tiny casualties of violent battles raging within their biological family. Child Protective Services is involved. Police may be involved. The location and identity of the children has to be protected from prying and angry relatives, or because high profile court cases are going on. There is medical and rehabilitative treatment. It’s never an easy situation.
“We thought that love was going to cover everything – and it is a very important piece of what we do, but it’s a misnomer to think that’s all it takes,” said Terry Beuhl. “The baby’s family is always there. The biological mother is still the mother. We are just here to do what we can for this child in this moment.”
Where other toddlers carry teddy bears and blankets, the Beuhl’s foster babies carry horror stories of physical abuse and neglect: some were born addicted to the drugs their mothers took during pregnancy; some have cigarette burn marks on their tiny arms and legs; some are so malnourished they are way too small for their age.
“It’s easy to blame the biological family,” said Jerry Beuhl, “but the truth is that they can’t give what they haven’t got. They just can’t do it.”
Terry Beuhl is dedicated to maintaining contact with the biological family. She takes pictures of the babies – at their home a whole wall is covered with snapshots and portraits – and she sends copies to the children’s parents.
“Good, bad or indifferent parents, I send those pictures off to them once a month,” said Terry Beuhl. “Sometimes they are very angry at me, because I have their kid. But this way they know that the baby is doing OK.”
The Beuhls have only good things to say about the caseworkers, caregivers and officials from Department of Social and Health Services they have contact with.
“All you hear is the negative stuff about foster parents and ‘the system’ and that upsets me,” said Terry Beuhl. “The people we have worked with have so much compassion. The majority of people involved are so dedicated.”
But how do they do it? How do they take care of a baby for a year or more, then see the child leave the safety of their home, sometimes to return to exactly the people who caused so much harm in the first place?
“It’s like a death in the family every time they leave, it really is,” said Terry Beuhl, growing quiet, looking at her husband.
Jerry Beuhl nods in agreement.
“We can do it because we know what we can do for that child in that moment is the right thing,” he said.
One time the couple were so heartbroken by the departure of a baby that they took a vacation to Hawaii.
“But then we got there and all the kids looked like the baby, who had big brown eyes and black hair,” Terry Beuhl said. “It was not the best choice of destination for us at the time.”
This Christmas, the Beuhls canceled a trip to the Oregon Coast with their own grown children to take care of yet another baby.
“The caseworker called and said, we have this other baby in the hospital and that’s all it took – we called off the vacation,” said Terry Beuhl.
The Beuhls offer encouragement to anyone who’s considering becoming a foster parent.
“The need for good foster homes is enormous,” said Jerry Beuhl. “And you’ll be surprised at what you can do. You have to be in the moment with these kids – it’s not about how you feel.”
Kornmann said she has seen children recover and gain strength at the Beuhls’ home all the time she’s lived near them. She gets upset with people who say foster parenting is just about money.
“Sometimes people say ‘Hey, they get paid to do it’ but they take in special needs babies that are sick and inured and in pain,” said Kornmann. “One time, Terry spent two weeks in the hospital with the baby; I don’t care how much you pay me – that is a really hard thing to do.”
The Beuhls know they are too old to adopt and long ago they settled on the ages birth to 3 years old as the perfect foster age for them. As long as they are able, they will continue to take in babies.
“We just do a job we love,” said Jerry Beuhl.
And there is no doubt in Kornmann’s mind that the Beuhls are special people:
“I’m telling you, if I was ever sick and injured and didn’t have my own house to go to, I’d want to go to Terry’s house, because I know she’d take care of me.”