By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
“When we first got married Carla said she wanted 27 kids. We’ve had 200 plus now and it’s still not enough.”
Charley and Carla Colton are thankful this Thanksgiving. The foster parents are currently taking care of their 199th foster child. That’s in addition to their four older children and the three that they have adopted.
In 1989, the couple had given birth to four children—Nick, Holly, Ashton and Bryant.
After a miscarriage and a stillbirth, Carla said they “weren’t ready to be done with family.” With foster care, “You can have them for a little while, can choose to take care of them and nurture them.”
She said sometimes it’s sad, “But after having taken care of them I would never wish not to do it.”
The Coltons have what they tongue-in-cheek call “A Wall of Shame” in their living room. This consists of pictures of many of their 199 foster kids.
Some stayed overnight, some stayed for five years. Foster care can consist of short or long-term care, emergency placements or respite, which is babysitting over weekends for other foster families.
Three children who stayed, and have been adopted by the Coltons, are Shakota, who is a sixth grade student at Chase County Schools; La-
Renia, who is in fourth grade; and Dakota, who is a freshman.
The Coltons receive foster care payment from the state for each child they receive. The fee depends upon a behavior checklist of many points, as well as need.
There is no clothing allotment. People donate clothes for the children, and there is a resource center in McCook that exchanges clothing as a child grows.
In addition, Carla taps into her extended family in Imperial, who can usually find clothing she needs for the kids.
“How do you do this? We couldn’t do it by ourselves,” she stated.
The farmhouse west of Imperial can be chaotic at times, with children coming and going. How do they manage the stress?
“Go to work!” Charley joked. He works for Terryberry Farms, while Carla is employed by Mid-Plains Community College’s Imperial Campus.
Seriously, Charley said communication is vital. “You have to keep up with it. We didn’t have cell phones when we first started.” He’d return home from work to a new face.
Their older children would joke that they would come home from college and wouldn’t know who was living at the house.
“We just got used to having spare beds ready, and moving things into storage,” he said.
Carla added the real stress for her was keeping dressers in order.
As far as real stress, there are organizations for foster parents, such as the NE Foster and Adoptive Parent Association. The Coltons are serving their second two-year term as co-presidents of that group.
It’s sometimes difficult to face the perception of a foster parent. “There’s a negative stigma on foster care and foster homes,” Charley said. Carla agreed that some people perceive foster kids as bad.
“Some have problems and homes without supervision. There are lots of reasons they’re in foster care,” she explained.
It’s also difficult to see a foster child return to their home and know that they’re not ready to return, Charley said.
But it’s gratifying knowing that most have been helped.
“Ninety-nine percent of the children you have in your house won’t tell you they appreciate what you’re doing, but you hear years later how grateful they are,” he commented.
“I think all the kids do appreciate it but it’s difficult thanking someone when your own parents can’t help,” Charley said.
The Coltons have learned how grateful some of those kids have been later on. Charley was asked to be best man in a former foster child’s wedding, and has walked several girls down the aisle. “That’s pretty neat,” he said.
It’s gratifying to Carla when a foster child goes home or out on his own as “respectful, productive, happy people.
“When they’re in your house there’s a lot of resistance to following rules. When you see the light bulb go on, we’ve rounded a corner” and the relationships become easier, she said.
But, foster care is a lot of work and takes a lot of time. Besides their jobs, Charley is involved with the Chase Cemetery, the Chase County Planning and Zoning Boards, Knights of Columbus, St. Patrick’s Church Parish and the Chase Co. Historical Society.
Carla is involved with St. Patrick’s Church Altar Society and is the State Affiliates Chairwoman for the National Foster Parent Association.
But, “Having kids around, I’m not going to be sitting in a rocker, watching whatever’s on TV,” Carla laughed. “I’m not sure if being a foster parent keeps you young, but it keeps us involved in their lives.”
While playing with their latest foster child, a four-month old girl, she’s unsure if it’s time to quit being a foster parent. “As long as I’m alive it’s good,” she stated.
Charley added, “I’ve never been about numbers or ‘I’ve done it this long.’ It’s what’s right for your children, first. Probably in the past I didn’t give enough of that time to our children,” and realized that when they left home.
“The world is full of trade-offs. We’ve been blessed with four original ones (children) and how they tolerate their crazy parents,” he said.
What are the Coltons thankful for this Thanksgiving? Carla said, “A loving and forgiving God, my health, and family and community.”
“She covered it,” Charley commented, “although I’d put family above my health. God in our lives, Carla in our life, it’s been an incredible journey.
“We didn’t get into foster care to build our family on a permanent basis, but we’ve been blessed with it.”