Saint Francis Kansas Kinship Family of the Year: Gena and Clifford Hailey

June 2021 · Foster Family Features, Kansas, Kinship, Ministry News

Human beings will do pretty much anything for those they love, and little compares to the love of a grandparent for a grandchild. So, when Gena and Clifford Hailey realized Phoenix, 3, and Merlin, 2, needed help, they didn’t hesitate to step in. Their daughter had struggled with addiction and other mental health issues for years, resulting in the boys developing health problems of their own.

“I’ve realized I’m not in my 20s anymore,” says Gena. “Cliff and I have seven children between us, including 17-year-old twins still at home. It’s been hard because Phoenix and Merlin had lots of issues when they reached us like instability and abandonment insecurities. Even a year later, we still worry about them.”

Though the twins help, the Meade, Kansas, couple’s age can still present a challenge, especially when it comes to mustering the energy to provide daily care to two babies dealing with their own set of struggles.

“Some days are easy with lots of smiles and kisses,” says Gena. “Other days, one of the babies may literally cry all day, especially if something triggers his fear of abandonment. It’s rewarding, though, to see them develop empathy for other people, when they love just for the sake of loving. Like when my dad passed away, I was crying and Phoenix came up to me with a worried look and whispered, ‘Mommy, are you okay?’ He hugged me so hard … it’s difficult to explain, but sometimes it feels like God moving through the babies. I’ve come to realize they’re as much of a blessing to us as we are to them.”

That’s why Gena and Clifford have chosen to adopt their grandchildren. Earlier this year, their daughter, the boys’ birth mother, relinquished her parental rights, and they are currently working through all the paperwork and court appearances to finalize the adoption.

“It’s an emotional experience for everyone,” says Gena. “We depend on a team of professionals to help us help get these children though trauma, but it’s up to the parents to speak up for the children and utilize the services. I was so distrustful of foster care before this experience, but while looking for respite, we met a couple of families that took care of the boys before we got them. They were amazing. They had so much love and no judgment. It’s like they chose simply to be present, to live in the moment, and to accept the babies as part of the family. When they babies saw them again, you could tell what those families’ care meant to them.”

Respite care is something Gena and Clifford could use more of. There’s a shortage of people able and willing to care for a child for an evening or a weekend, yet they provide an essential service to regular foster and kinship families in need of a break to relax and recharge.

“It can be overwhelming at times, especially for those of us who don’t have family to watch our grandchildren so we can get a break,” says Gena. “Everyone benefits from looking more positively at respite care. The people we’ve met are amazing. They don’t even realize that they’re not only making a difference in the lives of the kids they care for, but they also affect the families of those kids as well.”

So, if foster and kinship parents need respite, what do the children in their care need? The Hailey family believes kids need love, patience, and attention. They also need, according to Gena, parents who don’t compare them to anyone else. “We all come from our own experience,” she says. “Foster children need acceptance, guidance, and reassurance that they have a place in your home, that they are important.”