2018-08-09 / Local News

Orphan Annie’s influence affects lives of foster children in Leelanau

By Jen Murphy
of the Enteprise staff

FOSTER PARENTS Sara and Alan Caldwell keep busy with six of of their 11 children living at home. The Caldwells live in Suttons Bay and have provided “forever homes” for four foster children. FOSTER PARENTS Sara and Alan Caldwell keep busy with six of of their 11 children living at home. The Caldwells live in Suttons Bay and have provided “forever homes” for four foster children. The story of a little red-headed orphan changed the life of one Leelanau County resident.

“I watched ‘Annie’ at four or five years old,” Suttons Bay resident Sara Caldwell said. “That’s where I was introduced to the concept that there were children who didn’t have the type of family I did ... I was so utterly crushed by that story.”

That reaction helped shape the life Caldwell and her husband have built today.

Caldwell was the oldest of six children and she enjoyed caring for her younger siblings. She added that when she was 12, she was introduced to a family with kids who had special needs. “That lit the initial spark,” she said.

And the fire grew larger until fifteen years ago, when she started her journey as a foster parent.

That was when Caldwell started her adventure. She wasn’t married at the time, but she completed the required classes to become a licensed foster parent at Child & Family Services.

After earning her license, a one-yearold boy named Corey was her first foster placement. That placement became a forever home for the baby, and Caldwell officially became a mother when she adopted him.

Soon after, two more children, then three-year-old Raven and her day-old brother Gabe, came into Caldwell’s life.

As a single mother of three, Caldwell met and eventually married her husband, a father of four, in 2007. Together they adopted Raven and Gabe.

The happy family of nine expanded five years later with the birth of Caldwell’s first child. “We were able to give birth to (a daughter) and we were told it would only happen once, but we ended up having a couple more.”

By the end of 2016, the Caldwells welcomed two more baby girls into the world and adopted a teenager.

Today, with 11 children, six of whom currently live at home, the family is busy. “It’s a little crazy at times,” Caldwell said.

All but two of the children, ranging in age from two to 16 years old, are homeschooled - one is attending Leland Public School in the fall because he wants to take physics and calculus, the other because of a learning disability.

At this point, Caldwell may as well be called Superwoman.

But that’s not all - she is also working to finish her undergraduate degree in nursing.

Some may ask why she has chosen a life where she is always caring for someone, can’t drive a small car, and has to juggle so much.

The reward for her may boil down to one word: resilience.

“Raven, when she came into care, was babbling incoherently,” Caldwell said. “She is mentally delayed, but she has far surpassed any initial predictions. What she survived - she was almost dead. It’s amazing what resilience can bring.”

She added that watching other foster children, both those who she and her husband adopted or those who were with her for a short time, has been a high point over the years.

“I love watching some of the girls who I had in foster care,” she said. “Some are doing well, some are struggling, some are having children of their own. I like seeing that full circle come around.”

On the other hand, learning about the children who returned to situations where things didn’t get better or where cycles of abuse or neglect are repeated - she said that’s the hard thing about foster care.

The Caldwells also provide support to other foster parents, volunteering with CFS post-adoption services by providing respite care and mentoring.

Her advice to others thinking about becoming a foster parent? Don’t wait. “Kids aren’t waiting for ‘someday.’ I understand the tax foster parenting can take on healthy families, but kids can’t wait for ‘someday.’”

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