In the summer of 2014, amidst long days at the pool and board games together on lazy evenings at home, Jonathon and Cathy began to consider growing their family through adoption. Already the parents of two school-aged children, Meredith and Grayson, the Charleston based family heard of an organization called Lifeline Children’s Services. They were attracted to it’s faith-based mission and felt it was the right agency to move forward. International adoption also initially appealed to the couple because it would be a “closed” adoption, with a child permanently in their home and there would be no further relationship with the biological family. The couple didn’t know at the time, but their relationship with Lifeline would end up taking them in a completely different direction.
It began when a local church announced a partnership with Lifeline to engage, recruit, and support families to foster South Carolina children in care. Jonathon and Cathy hadn’t considered foster care, but because of their involvement with Lifeline, they attended an interest meeting. It was there they heard about respite foster care. “Respite foster parents come alongside other foster parents and temporarily care for their kids for short periods of time,” Cathy explains, “It gives foster families a break, and allows them to attend to a family need or go on a vacation. And while we were still considering an adoption, we felt becoming respite parents would be a way to do something while we waited.” The couple liked liked that they would be able to positively affect children in their community without having to travel or spend a lot of money. So their journey into foster care began—as respite foster parents.
They cared for three different respite placements, and during that time Cathy gave birth to their third biological child, Eleanor. Becoming respite foster parents helped them enter foster care in a way that felt comfortable to them and less overwhelming. “Respite is a great way to meet a HUGE need in the fostering community without being that full-time parent,” Jonathon and Cathy agree, “We didn't have to become full-time foster parents on day one. ”However, after a period of time doing respite care, they felt ready to do more and began to take long-term placements.
Their first placement was a little girl who stayed 5 months. Since that time, they have had several additional placements of children, and are currently fostering two young children. They love the effect fostering has had on Meredith, Grayson, and Eleanor, and the fact that fostering is a family affair, with everyone pitching in to help. From their church small group to neighbors to extended family, Jonathan and Cathy say their support system makes it all possible. And they’ve learned a lot since entering foster parenting.
“We didn't start this foster care journey informed and as perfect parents!” Cathy admits. “We didn't understand the need for connections back to heritage and relationships with biological family whenever safe, appropriate and available. So the fact that we now get to live with out family life transformed, and a lot more openness and connection to biological families and cultures and relationship is pretty amazing. It’s a testament to the fantastic training and coaching we’ve received from the Lifeline team. ”Most days, foster parenting is just parenting, according to the Leeke’s. It’s important to Jonathon and Cathy to let others know there’s nothing exceptional about them. And in the same way, there isn’t a huge divide between kids in care and the needs of other kids. They’re just kids. With the summer months now in full swing, you’ll find this family doing many of the same things they were four summers ago—riding bikes, playing games, and swimming at the neighborhood pool.