Bethany Wood and her husband Micah chose to become foster parents for a simple reason.
"There was a hole in my heart, and my husbands too," Bethany said. "We didn't have kids and we wanted to. And since it wasn't happening the natural way, we chose to get involved in the foster-to-adopt program."
In July of 2008, the Wood's got a call from their foster care home worker asking them to care for an 11-month-old girl named Diamond. The couple, who had finished their training through Youthville just days before, readily accepted the baby into their home. Diamond's biological parents had been unable to care for her due to their own limitations and she was very delayed for her age.
"She couldn't sit up or roll over," Bethany said. "She couldn't even lift up her head."
Then, in January the following year, the Wood's were asked to take Diamond's 4-month-old sister Jasmine, as well. Jasmine was born in September 2008, after Diamond was placed with the Woods, but had stayed with her biological parents under strict supervision by the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
In March 2009, Bethany and Micah took the necessary steps to adopt Diamond and Jasmine.
"It seemed like it took forever," Bethany said. "We kept wondering, 'Are we going to get them or are we not?'"
But by November, the waiting was over.
"They officially became ours," Bethany said.
The Wood's were elated the following March when Bethany found out she was pregnant. Three months into her pregnancy, Bethany, who was already trying to wrap her head around caring for two toddlers and a newborn, got an unexpected phone call.
"They asked if we could take Diamond and Jasmine's biological sister too," Bethany explained. "I immediately said yes. And I asked my husband afterward."
Although questions were raised about whether another baby might be too much, Bethany said the idea of not fostering the little girl was a foreign thought.
"How could I pass up their sister?" she said.
The baby, who had been diagnosed by doctors and DCF with failure to thrive, was named Elly. Her diagnosis was based off of not meeting development milestones, a problem directly related to her lack of care.
Elly had been closely watched since birth by a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteer named Judy Smith. Smith visited Elly's biological parents as many as four days a week where she observed and documented Elly's home-life.
"She was pale, listless. She didn't know how to be held," Smith said. "She wouldn't eat or cry."
Smith's role as a CASA volunteer is to act as a fact finder for the court system and provide unbiased information with Elly's best interest in mind. Smith said that although Diamond, Jasmine and Elly's mother was heartbroken when Elly was taken from her home, it was clear that deep down she knew she couldn't care for her children.
Page 2 of 3 - "I'm on the side of the child as CASA volunteer," Smith said. "My number one priority was to look out for Elly."
A year later, after a judge legally found that reintegrating Elly into her biological parents home was no longer viable and terminated their rights, the Wood's formally adopted Elly as well.
Through her work as Elly's CASA volunteer, Smith has become close with the Wood's and said they are wonderful parents who would sacrifice anything for their children.
"They've handled parenthood with grace and composure. Everything they do, they do together," Smith said of Bethany and Micah. "It's a team effort."
Bethany commended Smith, and the CASA program, for her help with Elly.
"Judy was instrumental in calming our fears. Having the CASA program to advocate for a child makes a world of difference," she said. "The court system is not always great, but with CASA involved the process is a lot smoother."
Bethany said Diamond, Jasmine and Elly were so young when they came into her and Micah's care that it's not likely they remember the foster and adoption process. She acknowledged that someday the girls will undoubtedly have questions about their past, but for now she can satisfy their main concern with a loving answer.
"When they ask if they grew in my tummy, I tell them they grew in my heart," Bethany said. "And I got to choose them."
In the time since their adoption, Diamond, Jasmine and Elly's lives have improved drastically and little evidence of their past remains. Diamond is now five years old, and has developed on target with everything except her speech and language.
"She is exactly like her name. Sparkly. She lights up a room," Bethany said. "She's social and caring. She loves animals."
Four-year-old Jasmine is a firecracker, according to Bethany. So much so that she has earned the nickname "Jazzitude."
"She has zero delays and is funny and helpful," Bethany said. "She wants to be a mechanic like her daddy."
The youngest of the three, Elly, is now 3-years-old and has come a long way in the time since her adoption.
"It's rare to see her not smiling," Bethany said. "She loves to play outside. I think she would live outside if she could."
The Wood's biological daughter Hannah, now two years old, is the youngest of the group and Bethany said she adores her big sisters.
"All of our girls are miracles," Bethany said. "Hannah was a huge surprise because we didn't think we were able to have children, but we were all meant to be a family."
She described her journey as a foster and adoptive parent as a roller coaster ride, but said everything she and her husband have been through was worth it now that they have four beautiful girls.
Page 3 of 3 - Smith echoed Bethany's sentiments and said her time as a CASA volunteer has been frustrating at times, but also extremely rewarding.
"Being a CASA is a happy thing," Smith said. "You're never alone. It's not scary. These children live among us and someone needs to be there for them."
The mission of CASA is to advocate for children in the local court system so they have a voice. That voice is given through volunteers who serve as court appointed special advocates and work with the non-profit to give a child undivided attention and advocate for their needs in the court system. By giving their time and expertise, CASA volunteers are an effective toll in the judicial process and help children to know there is someone there just for them in the court process.
To become a CASA volunteer contact the CASA office at (620) 225-1278 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kansascasa.org/district16 and submit an online application through the website. To learn more about being a foster parent, contact St. Francis Community Services in Dodge City at (620) 225-1442, ext. *831.