When Doug and Manuela Wilson saw the last of their three children leave the nest, Doug decided he wanted more children. So the couple became foster parents in order to fill their house with the sound of laughter.
“I was injured on the job in 1999,” Doug said. “It was hard for me to accept a check for doing nothing. I just had to do something.”
Doug has something to do now. He stays at home and takes care of the seven kids he and his wife took in through Social Services. To become a foster family, Doug and Manuela went though Medication Administration Program training. They said the training took a year to complete and included CPR and first-aid classes.
“My cousins have done foster care and adoptions for as long as I can remember,” Doug said. “So I went to MAP training to see what it was like.”
They did foster care for a while, but then decided they wanted to make a family.
Doug said they originally wanted about four children, but saw three boys on Adoption.org, and inquired. At first, the boys were spoken for, but that adoption fell through, and the Wilsons decided to see whether “it was a right fit.”
“You can’t just throw a group of people together and make a family,” Doug said. “You have to see if it works. We just left it up to the boys.”
After a few visits and overnight stays, the Wilsons took in the three boys — David who is now 10, John who is now 9, and Alex who is now 7 — on Valentine’s Day 2009. After 10 months, the boys decided they wanted to stay, and the Wilsons finalized the adoption.
In December 2010, the Wilsons were asked to take in a “shy 4-year-old,” but later realized that Jimmy was more than just shy.
“Jimmy is kind of different,” Doug said. “Most families aren’t willing, but able to take care of children in foster care. But Jimmy’s mom, she’s willing but she just can’t take care of him.”
So the Wilsons chose to just take custody of Jimmy, which allows his mother, who has health problems of her own, to come for visits. The adoption process requires the biological family to give up all rights to the children, which means they cannot visit the children once the adoption is complete. The custodial arrangement allows his mother to visit and even re-claim custody of Jimmy if she is able to take care of him.
Jimmy is special in other ways as well. Soon after taking Jimmy in, the Wilsons discovered he also had mentally problems, has Asperger syndrome — a form of autism — and Alzheimer’s disease. Manuela, who is a nurse at Mercy, said if they had not decided to take Jimmy in, he would have been “moved around and moved around because no one wants to take care of a special needs kid. It would be unfair to Jimmy.”
“We thought it would be a better route to take Jimmy in and be custodial guardians,” Doug said. “So one day he and his mom can co-habitate.”
After the Wilsons had been taking care of Jimmy for six months, the family made another discovery. Jimmy was the three boys’ half-brother. The Wilsons are pleased they are able to keep the family together rather than separate them, which is usually the case in foster care.
At that point, the Wilsons thought they were done — they had filled the house with laughter again. But then something unexpected occurred.
Two boys were taken by the police and put into protective custody. They asked the Wilsons for help. After taking in the two boys, another call came. The boys had a sister; did the Wilsons have room for one more?
“We told them we had room,” Manuela said.
Skylr who is 5, Taylor who is 6, and Kaylee who is 4, have been living with the Wilsons for 20 months.
Doug said it started out as a short-term thing, but the court system has exhausted all other routes.
“So, they are stuck,” Manuela said. “But we like it.”
Skylr, Taylor and Kaylee are still considered in foster care, but the Wilsons have already started the adoption process. Doug said last month, the family gave up their rights and it is now only a matter of time before the youngest three will officially become part of the family.
Manuela said she was happy with four, but seven is definitely enough; the house is full and they look forward to raising their second set of children.
“I think once these guys are all grown, we are done,” Doug said.
As for the older boys, David, who is a very astute young man said he wants to be an animalogist. John, who loves sports, said he wants to play football for Kansas State University and then play for either the Kansas City Chiefs or the Green Bay Packers. Alex was just happy to get a Furbee for Christmas.
As for the daily routine, Doug gets up early and makes the kids French toast for breakfast, then he herds them off to school and takes Kaylee to preschool. After school, Doug keeps them busy with activities such as wrestling, football, camping, and — when it’s warm — swimming in their pool in the back yard. After school, they all work on homework, eat dinner, watch their favorite TV and get ready for bed. Their favorite nighttime program is Sponge Bob.
Doug said the best moments are when he and Manuela can get all seven of them to listen. That is challenging because they have seven different personalities, and those don’t always agree.
Doug said the worst part is that children in foster care are so desperate for love and attention; the children will talk to anyone.
“They would go with anybody,” Manuela said. The children haven’t been taught about “Stranger Danger.” She said they usually have not had a bonding experience and trying to teach that after the fact is one of the hardest things a foster parent does.