“We’ve always taken those kids with special needs”

February 2020 · Foster Family Features

The Shidelers have always known that if they want a family, they must adopt. So, early in their marriage they decided that they would adopt as many children as God provided, trusting that he would give them only as much as they could handle. Yet, Kristen proffered a stipulation: that her family fit in a vehicle no larger than a suburban or a minivan.

“Andy’s from a large family, one of 10 siblings, so we’ve always been fine with having lots of children,” said Kristen. “But, growing up, his family had a 15-passenger van, and I wanted no part of that. That was our rule.”

With that in mind, the Colwich, Kansas, couple began fostering five years ago after trying multiple times to begin their family through private adoption.

“Doors kept shutting, so we began to wonder if maybe God had a different path planned for us,” said Kristen. “We had talked about foster care before, but now we began to seriously consider it as an option.”

That decision has not only given them their long-desired family, but it’s provided them with an enhanced vocation of sorts. Since licensing with Saint Francis Ministries, they’ve fostered 14 long-term placements and four respite placements. Many of those placements have been children with special medical needs.

“Because of our medical background, we’ve always taken those kids with special needs,” said Andrew. “We tell our social workers to keep an eye out for those children who don’t have a place to go.”

A physical therapist, Andrew provides treatment to patients at home, while Kristen works in an outpatient clinic as a pediatric occupational therapist.

“I’ve received lots of trauma training, so with our medical experience, I feel that we’re really good with behaviorally challenged children,” said Kristen. “Many times, we get kids that have been bounced around a bunch of homes, but we’re able to provide a stable environment for them and create a safe space where they can thrive.”

Their medical training is supplemented by their village, a support system largely comprised of their large extended family, many of whom also work in healthcare.

“Our village involves just about everybody, including our parents who will step in at a moment’s notice to come watch the kids,” said Andrew. “Several of our family members have even taken trauma training themselves so they can practice trauma-informed parenting with our children. We simply couldn’t do this without our parents, neighbors, cousins, aunts, co-workers, friends … they make the world go ‘round for us.”

Such support is especially welcome with four youngsters under five years old in the house. Kristen and Andrew currently foster five children, four of whom are sibling sisters, ages seven, four, and three (twins). They also foster a 2-year-old boy, and all five have special needs.

“When we got the two oldest girls, they were two and a half years and two months old,” said Kristen. “The 2-month-old came straight from the hospital with a feeding tube. Then, we got their sisters, the twins, who were born premature. That was a busy time, with lots of therapy and doctor appointments.”

Eventually, the court terminated the parental rights of the girls’ birth parents, and the couple had a decision to make. They’d cared for those four girls virtually since birth, and as far as Kristen and Andrew were concerned, they were already home. They are now in the process of adopting all four.

Yet, they intend to keep fostering.

“It would be a disservice if we stopped,” said Kristen. “We’re blessed with professions that enable us to help get these kids back on track developmentally, and that’s something we want to continue to do. I don’t know how long we’ll do it, but we’re young. As long as we have the energy, we’ll keep going.”

So, the Shideler home remains filled nearly to the brim with the happy noise of children, while Kristen and Andrew continue to care for as many as God sends. For them, this is both vocation and an expression of love, and they’ll do whatever it takes to ensure the children in their care have a fighting chance at a good life.

Kristen has even learned to drive the white 2018 Ford Transit 350 XL parked in their driveway. It seats 15, and she wouldn’t trade it for the world.