Foster care math: One couple + 12 kids = exponential love
Seven of the 12 children now being parented by Foster Parents of the Year Amy and Michael Morris celebrate their fantastic folks at a celebration held May 3 at Holladay City Hall. (Photo Credit: Utah Foster Care)
By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]journals.com
Six months after Holladay’s Michael and Amy Morris were married, the newlyweds were parenting seven children.
Now, as the couple celebrates their third wedding anniversary later this month, they are parenting 12 children.
It’s a case of foster care math, where exponential love and willingness prevail in a couple’s doing their part to help with what Utah Foster Care calls “an extreme shortage of families willing to take sibling groups here in Utah.”
Salt Lake’s Foster Mother of the Year
Amy’s nomination for Foster Mother of the Year included this introduction: “After recently adopting a sibling group of seven, Amy and her husband heard of another group of brothers and sisters who needed to be placed in a foster home together. Valuing the sibling bond and importance of keeping them together, Amy accepted the placement without hesitation — bringing the total number of children in her household to 12!”
She was also credited for, even while mothering 12 children, finding time to help evangelize foster care to others in the community. “Beyond the love and care she has provided to many children, Amy has also been a huge resource for the foster-care community, acting as a mentor to new foster parents and a pillar in the community,” read the nomination.
Last month, just a week before Mother’s Day, Utah Foster Care honored stay-at-home mother Amy Morris as Salt Lake Area Foster Mother of the Year at Holladay City Hall with Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle on hand for the festivities.
The community was ablaze with television coverage about the beyond “Brady Bunch”-scale blended family. Amy received her award at a luncheon in her honor. Husband Michael, head of strategic research and insights at Salt Lake City–based Western Governors University, was there by her side, with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, children in the wings, some even being interviewed by TV reporters, while toddlers are shown ambling about, behind the youths being interviewed.
… And Salt Lake’s Foster Father of the Year
Now, one month later, husband and father Michael Morris has been named area Foster Father of the Year by the organization.
It is, according to Utah Foster Care Communications Director Deborah Linder, only the second time in the 16 years the organization has selected both a mother and a father in the same parenting team.
“We have celebrated foster moms and dads consistently for about 16 years,” Linder said. Prior to that, she says it was a case of a less organized, “hit and miss” in terms of consistently awarding the honor to mothers only.
“When we decided to launch our Chalk Art Festival 16 years ago, we wanted to recognize the contributions of dads, who were often overlooked,” she said. “Sometimes these dads are the only positive male role models in the lives of children in foster care.” (This year’s Chalk Art Festival, held at the Gateway downtown, runs June 14–16, with the last day of the event being when Michael will take his turn receiving similar accolades doled on his wife the previous month.)
Michael’s nomination for Foster Dad of the Year included this introduction: “Meet Michael. Some call him boss, thousands call him friend, I call him hero, and a huge, growing number of kids call him Dad.”
Deciding to embrace becoming foster care parents
According to Amy Boyack with Utah Foster Care, the Morrises “got married a bit later in life” and learned that “the biological window” for having children had passed for them. At that point, they reached out to Utah Foster Care.
Boyack says that, from the start, the couple did not have particular — or what Boyack deems “narrow” — concepts of what foster care parenting would look like for them. Boyack characterizes their attitude as being “we want to be available for what the need is.”
What the need was, back in 2015, and still is the need? Foster care parents who are willing to foster multiple siblings, to keep them together.
After meeting the Morrises at their home, Boyack recalls coming back to her office, informing her coworkers about the “lovely couple” who had met while performing in a Nauvoo, Illinois music company. The husband was humble, Harvard educated and “really, really smart.” The wife was charming and, having come from Wales, was “lovely to listen to.”
“I felt like they had the right intentions and an open mind about what this would look like for their family,” says Boyack.
How to become parents of 12 — baby steps to fully embracing the darling dozen
Becoming foster parents, whether it be of one child or the first seven the Morrises first fostered, is not an “all-at-once” matter, shares Boyack.
“It took a while to transition all of these kids into their home — they did not receive them all at once.”
From there, the couple had to wait six months before finalizing adoption of the first seven siblings.
Then, in April, the Utah Division of Child and Family Services approached the couple with a unique opportunity to help five other siblings. “They must have indicated being open to more,” said Lindner. “It’s really hard to find families.”
When asked if the couple were also looking to adopt these children, Lindner indicated that currently, all are hoping for reunification of the five siblings with their birth family. In the foster care setting, Lindner said, “Reunification is always the first goal.”
In fact, Amy’s nomination included this testament to their interest in reuniting children with their families: “Amy and her husband have also worked hard to help reunify children with their biological parents — and becoming an ongoing support system for those children once they returned home.”
Day to day with the Morrises
The blended family travels in what Utah Foster Care’s Boyack describes as a “gigantic” 15-passenger van.
“Sometimes, it feels like you’re feeding an army of tiny dictators,” Amy shared with a room full of supporters Friday, May 3, as she was honored at Holladay City Hall.
“As humans, we’re made to foster children,” an emotional Amy said, using the word “foster” as a powerful verb and a call to action to would-be Utah foster care parents.
“My advice is — just to do it. Just go for it,” says Mom Morris. “Do it. I dare you.”