Under a canopy of twinkling white lights at the Sons of Norway hall on Feb. 27, a crowd gathered to celebrate the creation of four new families.
“This is our first-ever adoption celebration,” said Carol Plischke, Olive Crest’s eastern Washington area director. “We’ve had 12 adoptions this year already.”
Olive Crest is a private foster care agency, and its mission is to prevent child abuse, to treat and educate at-risk children and to preserve the family, one life at a time.
According to Plischke, at the end of last fiscal year there were 1,609 children in foster care in the Spokane area and 10,357 in the state. Of those 1,609 children, 317 of them were adopted.
Nine-year-old Haley and 7-year-old Andon Malcolm are two of those recently adopted. At the celebration last month, clear cups filled with brightly colored sand bore the names of each family member. Haley and Andon carefully poured their sand into a large glass jar. Then their big sister, Madison Malcolm, 12, and their parents, Jeff and Kelly Malcolm, added their cups. The result? A beautifully preserved rainbow of sand, symbolizing the creation of a new family.
The Malcolms had long been interested in becoming foster parents.
“Madison is an only child – they tend to grow up a little quicker,” Kelly Malcolm said.
Their family grew temporarily when a niece came to live with them for a year. “It was a wonderful experience,” she said. And the family learned a valuable lesson – temporary placement was not for them.
“It hurt so badly when my niece went home, we decided we didn’t want to be a place where kids come and go – we wanted to be a permanent home.”
After completing state licensing requirements, the Malcolms met siblings Haley and Andon in April 2009. “They were going to separate them,” Malcolm said. “It’s really hard to place siblings.” The Malcolms agreed to take both children. On Dec. 21, the adoption was finalized.
“It feels great that we have a new home,” Haley said. “It’s fun! We have chickens, dogs and cats!”
Unlike the Malcolms, Doug and Melody Slachter became foster parents with the goal of providing temporary care for children in need. “We never planned to adopt,” said Melody Slachter. “We have three grown children.”
But those plans changed when they met Tyne, 11, and Dawson, 10. The siblings lived with the Slachters for two years with the goal of reunification with their birth mother. “Reunification didn’t work out,” Slachter said.
And she and her husband couldn’t bear to let the children go. “We love them so much,” she said. “But they didn’t call us Mom and Dad until the day they were adopted.”
Chris and Zara Knowlton’s family grew from two children to five in nine short months when they adopted two girls and Zara gave birth to a daughter. With five children ages 7 and younger, the couple lead a busy life, and they wouldn’t have it any other way, they said.
“I work with troubled teens,” Chris Knowlton said. “I met a 16-year-old who’d been in 23 (foster) homes. It was tearing me up.”
When the Knowltons became foster parents they wanted to create a forever family for children in need. “We didn’t just want to foster; we wanted to keep them,” he said.
The largest family at the adoption celebration was the Officer family. They have three birth children and 10 adopted children. The last three children came to the family through Olive Crest. At the celebration, two of their daughters sang “When Love Takes You In.”
The need for foster parents continues to grow. Currently, almost 500,000 children are in foster homes, nationwide. The need is especially profound for school-age children.
“Olive Crest basically never gets babies 0-1 and very few under age 5, unless they are part of a sibling group that we place all together,” Plischke said. “The state has an easier time placing the little babies and tends to use private agencies for the tougher to place children (older, sibling groups, or behavioral issues). So this makes it even more special when we are able to find older kids and siblings forever homes.”
At the conclusion of the adoption celebration, each family took home their sand-filled jars. In each case the colors merged seamlessly from one to the next.
Kelly Malcolm said of the addition of Haley and Andon, “Life is so much more fun and rewarding with them in our family. This is what we can do to make the world a better place.”