IRON RIVER—The memory comes rushing back to Jane Bale as her voice quickens and her eyes light up.
The 6-month old boy from Gogebic County was brought to Jane and her husband Mark’s home in Bessemer in December 1980 with no blankets, no snow suit, not even any stockings.
The little boy came to the Bales through the courts and the Department of Human Services. He would become the first in a long line of foster children the Bales would take in over the next 30-plus years.
“We were going to a Christmas party at our pastor’s house,” Jane recalled. “I put socks on his feet and covered them up. And I totally felt that this is what I’m meant to be doing.”
May is National Foster Care Month, and the Bales, who are contracted by DHS to recruit and retain foster parents in Iron, Gogebic and Ontonagon counties, spoke at Grace Covenant Church May 4 as part of their educational efforts.
Through their association with Grace Covenent pastor James Swanson (who has been a foster parent himself), the Bales set up an information booth at the church and shared their experience of offering their home and their hearts to troubled children from troubled families.
“We became involved after reading an article in the paper,” Jane began. “We’ve always had a heart for children, and in 32 years of foster care, we’ve had 45 children.
“But it’s not the number. We always say the most important thing to remember is their names.”
Approximately 14,000 Michigan children are in foster care at any given time, according to a press release from DHS. Mark Bale said that though the numbers always fluctuate, there were recently 52 kids in the tri-county area placed in foster homes.
“We have 29 licensed foster homes through the DHS in Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon counties,” Mark stated.
The Bales have three children of their own, a birth daughter, Ilene, who is 31; an adopted daughter, Niki, who is 28 and is originally from Korea; and the youngest, a 14-year old boy named Jonathan, whom they adopted after being his foster parents for a time.
Mark Bale is a retired forestry worker and Jane a retired pre-school teacher. After all their years of foster parenting and working, the Bales were set to retire their foster license and do some traveling.
But that’s when Jonathan entered their lives.
“He and his little brother were in foster care, but they needed to be placed somewhere else,” Jane said. “They found a home for the little guy, but didn’t have a home to take both.
“We fell in love with (Jonathan). He’s had a harsh, harsh life, but he’s just a neat kid, and he’s very thankful.”
That type of deep personal involvement is both a blessing and a difficulty for foster parents, who are educated to balance their attachment to the child with the knowledge that nearly all of them have to leave at some point.
Normally courts try to return the children to their families if that’s possible. If not, the efforts turn toward finding adoptive parents.
Not all foster stories end up well. These are mainly children from abusive backgrounds who often have a very difficult time finding their way through the pain of their pasts.
“Some of these kids are in survival mode,” Mark said. “Their anger is fear. They’re acting out of fear because they have no one to trust.
“And if you’re able to crack that door open and they let you in, it’s amazing when that happens.”
In January, the Bales added Iron County as part of their work area. After Sunday’s presentation at Grace Covenant, the Bales are schedule to speak at St. Agnes on May 8.
They also did a seminar at Windsor Center earlier in the year and have performed in-service training for teachers and nurses and are licensed to train possible foster care families.
Swanson, who recently adopted three brothers--Kheldon (14), Dayvid (11) and Donovan (10)--after providing foster care for the trio, summed up his experience as a foster and now adoptive parent.
“It’s just been such a blessing. Yes, there are difficult days. But in the end, this is one of the greatest things I’ve been involved in.”
“If I never said yes, I would never know what I would have missed,” Mark added. “To open our heart and homes to these children, we would never have seen the success stories that come.”
For more information on foster parenting, contact Gogebic/Iron/Ontonagon Department of Human Services at 906-663-6200 or 906-290-0997 or contact Mark and Jane Bale at 906-663-0041.