The McElroy’s Foster Care Journey

The McElroy’s Foster Care Journey

For a Month, or Forever: The McElroy’s Foster Care Journey

Raelynn and Justin McElroy began their foster care journey almost as soon as they were married. Raelynn’s aunt and uncle were foster parents at the time, caring for a four-year-old boy, Jackson. When it became apparent that reunification with Jackson’s birth family was not going to be an option, they found themselves having to decide whether or not they should adopt him, given their age. One night when Justin and Raelynn were visiting, Justin pulled Raelynn aside and said that they should be the ones to adopt Jackson.

The primary goal of foster care is to provide a loving temporary home for children until they can safely return home. However, when returning home is not an option, foster care is a beautiful way for children to find their forever family. Justin and Raelynn initially cared for Jackson as a kinship placement while becoming fully licensed foster care providers, and eventually had the pleasure of adopted him. He is now ten years old. Raylyn recalls the early adjustments Jackson went through when he came to their home.

“We had to help Jackson walk through the grief of leaving my aunt and uncle,” says Raylyn. “He has a wonderful relationship with them still, and he’s probably been able to adapt and cope the best out all the children we’ve fostered/adopted. He relates to the kids we bring into our home and is so gracious as we learn to parent multiple kids from hard places.”

Every year on Jackson’s adoption anniversary, the McElroys take treats to school and talk to his class about foster care and adoption. He is incredibly open about his experiences and tries to share them with his classmates, including those with similar backgrounds.

Since adopting Jackson, Justin and Raelynn have fostered several other children, some of whom successfully reunited with their birth parents and four whom they adopted. Raylyn is quick to say they don’t consider those adoptions their only “success stories,” but rather the times when it was clear they were in the best position to permanently parent those kids.

Sometimes the term “foster to adopt” gets used by people hoping to get into foster care in order to expand their family. However, this is a bit of a misnomer, as the best-case scenario is for a child’s family to get the help they need, to become healthy, and to safely welcome their child back home. Adopting out of foster care does happen, but foster parents need to be prepared for the beautiful heartbreak of releasing a child to their family.

For the McElroys, that was particularly difficult with an infant they cared for since he was four days old. At five months of age, he was able to go to live with his grandmother, who also cared for his older sister. Raelynn recounts the difficulty and the joy of that transition 

“We loved him deeply and fiercely,” she says. “His grandparents have been so incredibly kind and loving to us. His grandmother has truly become my friend, and we still talk regularly. Giving that baby to her was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I still grieve him and cry for him at times, but I’m blessed with the ability to know and see that he is safe and loved. That’s what I want for him always, even if it’s not with me.”

Justin and Raelynn continue to foster and have developed a heart for caring for youth with elevated medical needs. Sarah, their adopted daughter, came to them exhibiting some troubling behavioral concerns. As a nurse, Raelynn suspected that undiagnosed medical issues were exacerbating them. After dozens of waiting rooms, drives to specialists and even deciding to stay home full time to fully commit to Sarah’s recovery, Raelynn’s suspicions were confirmed, and Sarah got the help she needed. Similarly, their adopted son, Maddox, was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy and global development delay. Despite this, Justin and Raelynn are amazed at his progress and ability to meet every goal they’ve set for him.

Every step along the McElroys’ foster and adoptive path has brought new challenges, joys, heartbreaks and growth opportunities. Their love has already changed so many lives: not only those of the children they’ve cared for, but also their families. Raelynn urges new foster parents not to be scared away by the feeling that they need to know exactly what they are doing when they get started.

“You can’t know everything going into this,” she says. “There are not enough classes in the world. But, if you are willing to learn, ready to dive in, and open to new challenges, you can become the best parent for that child, be it for a month, or forever.”

*names changed to protect privacy

 Learn more about becoming a foster parent at cornerstonesofcare.org/foster