Blake Danridge’s pair of 3-year-old sisters can annoy him. They want to wrestle, they want his attention and, worst of all, they’re girls.
He wants a brother. So do his parents.
Ken and Amy Danridge, of Belleville, take in foster children and have “a spot at the table” available now, said Amy. They and Blake, their biological son, hope that chair eventually will be filled with a boy close to his age, who likes video games and sports — not Minnie Mouse and princesses.
But, “He wouldn’t trade them for the world,” said Amy of their adopted and foster daughters, as one climbs onto him with a “I sit on my brother’s lap!” pronouncement. He gently tries to scoot her off, saying, “You can sit next to me,” to little avail.
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They have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, they say. The children are happy and healthy; they have a church family supportive of their fostering lifestyle, and they have resources to turn to should they need help.
Ken, 55, and Amy, 39, became foster parents and were licensed by the state in November 2012. Early on, Ken knew his wife wanted a large family. And while they wanted biological children, fostering and adoption were also priorities.
They adopted Mya, 3, last year. In January 2013, she was the first of seven foster children to come into their home. She was 2 days old.
“The caseworker set her in her car seat in the middle of the living room floor and took off the blanket,” Amy said. “She looked at Blake and said, ‘Here’s your sister.’”
Blake, then 6, was enthralled.
“Foster parenting is much different than parenting your biological child ... but the end result of loving the child is the same,” said Amy.
That the children are loved is evident in smiling faces in large canvas photos throughout the house, up the stairs and in the children’s rooms.
“They’re our kids, and we wouldn’t do it any other way. They’re our kids, even the ones that come and go,” Amy said.
The other 3-year-old girl now living with the Danridges is “Baby F,” who was almost 2 when she arrived in March 2015. She and Mya are just four months apart in age and not biologically related.
Her biological father voluntarily severed his rights and her biological mother’s rights have been terminated. She will legally join the family as a Danridge sometime in the spring. Her name and photo cannot be used in this story until after her adoption is final, according to the Department of Children and Family Services.
Like the family celebrated Mya’s adoption with a party, they will do the same for Baby F. That official piece of paper really matters, said Amy.
“The birth certificate comes back as if I had her,” she explained. “That is a very emotional piece of paper.”
How it works
The Danridges’ foster license allows them two foster children. Until Baby F is adopted, they can have one more child in the household.
In the past, they’ve had siblings in the family, Ken said, including two boys who came from a home with a methamphetamine lab. Caseworkers are always looking for families who can take siblings.
“They’ve never had structure; no one provided boundaries,” said Ken. “Their ages might have been 2 and 4, but the street age was 17, 18.”
Ken speaks with a low voice and a ramrod-straight bearing from his military experience. He was recently laid off from his IT job, and has a new appreciation for Amy’s stay-at-home-mom status.
The family’s home off Green Mount Road, with the toys and playroom and electronics, can be a jarring change to a child who had few or no possessions.
“They get over that” part of the adjustment quickly, he laughs.
“The biggest joy is seeing the joy on their faces — that someone cares,” he said. Once that connection is made, it stays.
A 4-year-old boy the Danridges fostered when Mya was a baby came to the family with a few dirty clothes in a small diaper box. None of them fit. He had just been kicked out of his seventh placement.
“Taking away a toy (for poor behavior) didn’t faze him,” Ken said. “He’d never had a toy.”
The boy stayed with them for about nine weeks, and has since been adopted. Blake is still friends with him and recently attended his birthday party.
“We would have kept (him) in a heartbeat if we didn’t have Mya at 4 months old,” Amy said.
“It can be a full-time job,” Amy admits in the playroom where one of the girls is climbing over Blake and the other is pulling toys from a bin.
The court and DCFS are the ultimate authorities concerning a foster child, determining if he can go on an out-of-state vacation with the family, for instance, or if her picture can be shared to the family’s Facebook friends. Medical procedures must be requested and reviewed.
Amy said the family has a blanket approval to go to places in St. Louis like the zoo with their foster charges. Medical procedures require DCFS approval. Baby F is covered under Public Aid, which many doctors do not accept, so the family has two doctors and two dentists.
“It’s one thing to take them into your house,” Amy said. “Then there’s court and sibling visits and parent visits — it can be a lot.”
Baby F has visitations twice a month with two older biological brothers who live in Illinois. There is no court order for her to see a younger brother in Missouri.
Her mother visited for a couple of months and then stopped.
Figuring out how foster children fit in is hard for them and the families they stay with, said Amy.
She says Baby F has adjusted well, but still has some struggles.
“It’s HER blanket, HER room,” she said, noting that she arrived with just a blanket and a stuffed frog.
Now, she’s surrounded by parents, siblings, toys and that big brother whose lap she plops onto with an infectious grin.
By the numbers
The total number of children in foster or relative care, group homes or institutions as of Sept. 30, 2016, according do the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services:
475 in St. Clair County
447 in Madison County
15 in Monroe County
14,389 in the state of Illinois
$429. The monthly amount the Danridges get for fostering a 3-year-old. The allotment increases with age; the couple say the money is being saved for college.
Want to become a foster or adoptive family? Go to https://www.illinois.gov/dcfs/lovinghomes/fostercare/Pages/index.aspx.