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Couple offers guide to adoption

The Rev. Bart and Claudia Fletcher have adopted 12 children and provided foster
care for six others since they married in 1996. They hope to help others
navigate foster care and adoption through a book, “Out of Many, One Family:
How Two Adults Claimed Twelve Children through Adoption.”
A UMNS photo courtesy of Claudia Fletcher.

By Julie Price*
Oct. 21, 2009 | NORTH MANKATO, Minn. (UMNS)

When the Rev. Bart and Claudia Fletcher married in June 1996, it didn’t take them long to start a family.

The day after their honeymoon, the couple submitted an application to become foster parents. By October, they had their first boy and, three months later, the second came along.

Now -- 13 years, six foster children, and 12 adopted children later – Fletcher, pastor of Belgrade Avenue United Methodist Church, and his wife have published a book promoting adoption that is both a guidebook and memoir.

They hope to help others who are navigating the territory of foster care and adoption that they have come to know so well. “Out of Many, One Family: How Two Adults Claimed Twelve Children through Adoption” was triggered by a trip to England in 2001.

“Bart wanted to see every church ever built in England,” she said, “but I got a little bored. I started thinking about the learning curve of traveling in a different country—the transit, the electrical systems—and how we were learning it all but won’t ever use it again. I realized that was like the adoption process. Nobody ever wrote down what to expect when you’re going through it. So I started writing there.”

Mrs. Fletcher continued writing after they returned home, her husband serving as editor. They formed their own company, Third Degree Parenting, found online at www.outofmanyonefamily.com, and published the book in August.

Waiting list

What started them on this adventure was the fact that 130,000 kids in the United States are waiting to be adopted. “When we saw that kind of need, we decided to do straight adoption, not more foster care,” she explained.

Rev. Bart and Claudia Fletcher wrote a book about what they learned on their journey to adopt 12 children and care
for six foster children.

“For us, one of the most important things is for a child to have permanency,” he said. “Nothing is more damning to the soul of a child than impermanence. There’s a necessary place for foster care in the system, but once we realized there were a lot of kids ready to be adopted, we decided we’d like to keep the kids we care for.”

The Fletchers chose to adopt older children, many of whom come with emotional, social, and physical challenges as a result of their birth and early childhood situations. Their multiethnic family includes several Hispanic children, two Hmong children, and one biracial bdlack child.

“Probably the easiest child is the one who came to us at age 12,” Mrs. Fletcher said. “When families are considering adopting older kids, we tell them, ‘Younger doesn’t mean better, just longer.’ If you adopt a 15-year-old, they’ll be an adult pretty soon.

“A lot of adoptive parents have tough situations with their kids,” she added. “There’s talk online about whether families should have to be put through this, when kids aren’t making progress. But you don’t know which kids will make it, and every kid deserves a chance. We have to be the adults, be strong enough to realize that we’ll go through tough times but every kid needs the opportunity to find out who they are.”

The Fletchers have struggled with some of their children’s choices. They have learned to teach their children the family’s values and then allow them to make their own decisions.

In some cases this results in disappointment and heartbreak. And sometimes a child just needs a little more time—and trust—to keep growing. Their oldest son, who was far from easy to raise, is now a graduate of Bethel University and a second year sixth-grade teacher living in St. Paul.

“Any time one of the kids succeeds, we say it’s the environment; if not, it’s genetics,” Rev. Fletcher joked. “Other people might blame their spouse’s genes. We don’t have to do that.”

Spreading the message

The couple spends a lot of time talking to adoptive families and spreading the message of adoption. “Many families, individuals, and couples can’t or won’t adopt, but they can still be supportive of adoptive families,” Rev. Fletcher pointed out.

He likes to remind United Methodists, with their emphasis on inclusivity and social justice, that adoption fits well with their ethos and history. “Even using more adoption-friendly language is an important step,” he said. “Say ‘birth parents’ instead of ‘real parents.’”

Another important factor in welcoming adoptive families into a church is the understanding that children with special needs may behave in ways that are not appropriate, but that may not have anything to do with the parents’ competency, he noted.

“One son loudly announced, using unprintable language, from the front pew one Sunday that Dad was so boring he couldn’t stand listening anymore,” Mrs. Fletcher recalled.

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“It wasn’t a moral offense,” Rev. Fletcher said. “And people knew him, they understood him, so they just chuckled.”

He believes that all Christians should play some role in the lives of children. “Ten years ago, my goal was to save a child,” he said. “I may not have been able to do that very well, but my children have saved me.

“They’ve helped me become more humane, more sympathetic, more understanding about issues surrounding the emergence from poverty. As parents, we are observers on the journey.”

Orphan Sunday, an ecumenical nationwide call to care for orphans and raise awareness for the need for foster and adoptive parents, is Nov. 8 and resources are available at www.orphansunday.org.

*Price is the communications assistant for the Minnesota Annual Conference.

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