A Helping Hand For Foster Families
When I approach the Keola home the first thing I hear, even before reaching the door, are kids. Kids yelling. Kids squealing. Kids laughing and crying. The first thing I see when I walk inside are those kids – jumping and running and cheerfully scattering toys all over the floor.
I like it. It feels alive. Kaui Keola, mom of many, beams up at me from the couch, baby perched on her lap. Husband Rocco greets me from the kitchen. Their daughter Hoku corrals another youngster. More children peek at me as they play.
The Keolas have eight children. Three of them, Hoku, Taesha and Ka’ili, are their grown biological children. Only Taesha still lives at home, mainly to help with the kids.
Three are adopted: Keolanui (9), Faith-Destiny (4) and Kawena (2).
The two foster children, Sadie (3) and Grace (22 months), are not in the picture and I’ve changed their names to protect their privacy. But believe me, they are a vibrant part of this loving and boisterous family.
“The house is pretty loud,” says Rocco in the understatement of the year. “Never a dull moment.”
Rocco is the strong, silent and hardworking anchor. Kaui is the energizer, the nurturer and the articulate heart of the family. She used to work full time as a teacher at a Hawaiian immersion school, but once they began fostering, she quit to take care of the kids full time. There was no question it was the right thing to do. All of the children who are placed with them have special needs.
“Lots of special needs,” she says, “Faith, for example, didn’t make a sound except for crying until she was almost 3 because of speech delays.”
Kaui says that’s not unusual for babies whose parents are crystal meth addicts.
“They have definite attention difficulties. She had to be fed around nine times a day because she could not focus on eating long enough to be satisfied. She also, as an infant, had feeding difficulties where she couldn’t suck on the bottle, so she would take one hour to do 2 ounces.”
Sadie and Grace came to them on Christmas Eve.
“The aide brought them to us while we were in Christmas Eve mass, and they’ve been here with us ever since.”
The girls came from a military family. They’d been so neglected by their drug-addicted parents, neither knew how to speak. The older girl, Sadie, is autistic, and for a while everyone thought Grace was autistic as well. That was until they realized she was copying her sister.
“They were left home alone. They only had each other. No one’s communicating with them, no one’s teaching them.”
Kaui and Rocco have fostered 30 children in the last four years – all from homes riddled with drugs, domestic violence and neglect. The severe problems left these tiny victims damaged – and desperate for love.
Which is what they get plenty of with Kaui, Rocco and the Keola siblings.
Now, the reason I am calling your attention to this beautiful family?
Simply put, they need a raise. Foster families haven’t seen an increase in their stipend for 22 years.
There are bills in the Legislature that would give them a bump in the foster board payment. Right now they get $529 per child per month. That does not cover all the expenses these special needs children require.
They only survive because Rocco works as much overtime as he can get at his City and County job. No wonder he looks so tired.
“Most come with the clothes on their backs, so we supply clothes and footwear,” Kaui says. “I have two dressers and a small closet with clothes from size 0-5 both male and female, along with the infant needs of burp diapers, receiving blankets, towels, etc.”
The Keolas also keep a pile of “keiki equipment” right outside their door: strollers, joggers, multiple car seats of every size.
As if that weren’t enough, Kaui says, “We grow most of our own produce with taro, papayas, bananas, mangos, tangerine, orange, lemon, lime, lettuce, spinach, rosemary, basil, green onion and more all on the property. This helps to cut down on the food costs.”
Still, they barely manage. Kaui says regardless of whether they get a raise from the state, they will continue to take in children.
“We were in shock when we first started out. You start to realize how many children are in such a bad situation. I’m glad that they can come to us, even if it’s just for a short time. Mostly just to make sure they’re safe.
“It’s been a blessing. It’s been a wonderful experience. Emotional, but so rewarding.”
I hope our lawmakers can find it in their hearts to give them the support they need to continue keeping keiki safe – and making sure they are loved.