Don and Kari Murphy are parents and foster parents to ten children. We had our two biological children, Katie in 1990 and Patrick in 1993. Katie is a healthy and brilliant young woman in university studying law and Patrick is a quadriplegic (cerebral palsy) and legally blind due to being born two months prematurely who has graduated from high school. After we adjusted to the shock of Patrick’s diagnosis, we were not satisfied with the doctors’ recommendation that we stop at two children (we had also had a couple of miscarriages). We both grew up in very large, active happy families. Don was the youngest of twelve and came from a farming family in Northern New Brunswick, and Kari was the oldest of six in a family that had 184 foster children come and go over 30 years. Kari grew up on Manitoulin Island and her parents had fostered for 30 years (dad was also with the OPP for thirty years) and Don’s brother and wife had also fostered for many years so it seemed like a natural solution.
We have been fostering successfully since 1996 when our foster son, Noah, was placed with us at the age of three. He was medically fragile, a very sick child whose mother was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. We nursed him to good health and he is now a university graduate and has started his career in business; he still lives at home. He was Valedictorian and co-MC for his grade eight graduation and treasurer for his school council. He is also an active, life-long volunteer.
A year later, in 1997, we were asked to take twins with cerebral palsy, who were in wheelchairs, diapers and only spoke a few words. Within six months Dylan and Tiffany were both walking independently, toilet trained in the daytime and speaking in sentences. Two years later they could both read.
A year after that (1998), due to their experience with medically fragile children, the Murphy’s were asked to take a six month old baby girl for palliative care. The baby had just emerged from a three and a half month long coma, had had two cardiac arrests and had full blown AIDS. She was also a “crack baby” and had significant exposure in utero to alcohol. The baby was predicted to have approximately a month to live. The Murphy’s nurtured her, loved her and nursed her to health. At age three, they adopted this child, Ashley. She is now almost seventeen, with no behaviour problems at home or at school. She excels at singing, drama and public speaking in spite of having very mild cerebral palsy from a skull fracture and broken jaw (her stroller was thrown into traffic at two weeks of age and hit by a car). She was also the Vice President of the Student Council, a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow, and a travelling motivational speaker with We Day, was awarded the Inspire Aware for 2015. In March 2015 she will speak in Geneva Switzerland at the UN AIDS Charity Gala and in May at a luncheon with Laureen Harper.
A year later (1999), the Murphy’s were asked by an acquaintance to help a sixteen year old girl who had been abandoned by her father and whose mother was deceased. This girl is a quadriplegic, severely disabled with cerebral palsy and used a power wheelchair. She was completely dependant in all areas of her care. She is now a 30 year old young woman, living in her own apartment with nursing staff. She comes home for visits and still considers the Murphy’s as her family. She was not a foster child as she was over sixteen at the time and CAS could not assist her so that is why the friend asked them to help, which they gladly did until Carling was almost twenty. Older children need to have the opportunity to be fostered or adopted.
The next couple of years were filled with regular childrearing fun and hard work. Don is a Special Education and Parenting and Religion teacher at St Mary’s Catholic School and Kari left her career in Dental Hygiene when Patrick was born. They have used the medical knowledge and educations to assist the children in their care to become the best they possibly can be.
In 2003, the Murphy’s took in another foster child who had come for a weekend of relief and was clearly unhappy and mistreated in her foster home. Five days after she left the Murphy’s she was back for good. She was only five, she had been moved three times already and she was happy to have found a forever home. She has serious medical problems and has had dozens of surgeries. She was two years behind grade level in grade three but is now working at grade level with a mid-seventies average in grade eleven.
In 2008 the Murphy’s took in a thirteen year old girl who had been Kari’s parent’s foster child since she was a baby. When they stopped fostering after thirty years, this girl wanted to stay in the same family and so the Murphy’s agreed to take her in as well. She was a Special Education student on Manitoulin Island where she was living and now she is a mother to her own little girl and is completing her last couple of high school credits. She is also medically fragile with a hereditary syndrome.
In 2009 Mrs. Murphy’s adopted brother and his partner had a baby boy, Raven. He was taken at birth from the hospital by DCAS and placed in foster care. His father turned to Kari as his main local family and support and asked her to consider taking the baby into her care as a legal guardian until they could get the baby back. Due to the father’s Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, he could not adequately care for Raven on his own and he asked the Murphy’s to take permanent guardianship of Raven. They agreed to. The father is still sober for almost seven years and has a relationship with Raven. Raven has thrived in the Murphy home and is almost six years old and in senior kindergarten. He is a healthy, active, and very happy boy.
The workers from the outside agency the Murphy’s are with are in the home every two weeks and the cases are also monitored by the placing agencies with regular visits to the home. All of the children are happy at school and at home and all have done better than anyone expected.
#Support4EveryFamily is essential. With our large family comprised of biological, foster, and adoptive children, outside supports tremendously helped our family, especially because a number of our children experienced complexities. When we adopted Ashley it was imperative that we have a subsidized adoption. Her medication fluctuates from $1000-$2000 a month and she has Ensures, had a feeding tube and pump. We would have had a very difficult time managing the expense of her health costs and the extra money a month helped pay for piano, ballet, and swimming lessons which would have been covered by CAS if she had been a foster child. Having a subsidized adoption was a factor in making the decision to adopt rather than continue to foster. We already had a large expense of caring for our biological son who was severely disabled and taking on her extra medical expenses would have been too much. Post-adoption, CAS workers ceased their support but we found support through Sick Kids Hospital social workers. Sometimes too much support can be a hindrance because it can make you feel as if you are not the parent, but #Support4EveryFamily is vital to achieve permanency as well as the ability to build strong relationships within and outside the family unit.