By Emily Brak, Point Park News Service:
It takes six pounds of ground beef and a restaurant-sized frying pan to feed two tables filled with children. Meals like this are served daily in a Westmoreland County home.
A humongous van parked in the garage is required to transport this very large family.
And they need an industrial-strength, L-shaped, sectional sofa so the everyone has a place to sit during movie night.
This is daily life for the Houser family with 15 domestically and two internationally adopted children, ages 3 to 27. Some were adopted as sibling groups, and some were adopted individually into the Houser family.
Although the home can be described as “extremely chaotic,” these parents changed the lives of 17 children and gave them opportunities that would have been unimaginable in the foster care facilities where many of them spent their early lives.
“I’ve earned every gray hair in my head, but if I didn’t have children, I don’t know what I would be doing with myself,” said Katie Houser, their mother.
Houser said she always knew that she wanted to have a large family. She was an only child and hated every minute of it. Her mother had a health issue that stopped her from having any other children, and Houser was afraid that the same thing would happen to her.
“I’d have no kids before I would have just one,” she said.
Without adoption, Houser said she would not be the mother she is, and she could have not given her children opportunities.
“In most domestic adoptions, birth parents make the choice to put the child up for adoption because they want their child to have a better life than they can provide, so adoption almost always gives that child that option to have a better life,” said Debbie Cohen, district supervisor at Adoptions from the Heart, a private, non-profit, non-sectarian adoption agency.
Licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Virginia, and Connecticut, the agency has placed more than 5,081 infants and toddlers in families since its founding in 1985. Adoptions from the Heart is one of the 11 adoption agencies in the Western Pennsylvania region.
There are two types of domestic adoptions. One is when the birth mother voluntarily relinquishes her rights. The second is when the birth parents lose their rights to the child because of neglect, abuse or other serious situations.
In the Housers’ case, only two of her children were voluntarily put up for adoption. Thirteen of them came from the foster care system because they were taken away from their birth parents.
One of the 17 children said adoption helped him in many aspects of his life. This child, who asked not to have his name used for the story, was taken from his parents at age five. He stayed in a foster care facility with about 300 other children for three years. After that, he moved to a different foster care facility with his siblings. He said that his education suffered in foster care, and he also suffered emotionally.
“When I was in foster care, I thought it was my fault that everything happened,” he said. “But through the process of being adopted, my parents helped me.”
The Housers’ oldest child said she lived in a group home with a few other children and never knew if she would have a family of her own. She moved from one foster home to another over five years.
“I’m so thankful that my parents found me, loved me and took the time to teach us what true love is,” she said.
She said she feels thankful for the life she has now.
“I have sixteen brothers and sisters because my parents chose to open their hearts and doors to children that no one else wanted,” she said. “Everyone wants a baby, and not many will adopt a grown child, but my parents took a leap of faith and have gone through a lot of hurt and pain, but they still are such strong and loving parents.”
Although having 17 children is a huge responsibility, Houser said it is worth it.
“I think adoption has changed their lives to where their perspective of life is completely different,” Houser said.
She explained education was not stressed for many of her children before they became a part of her family. Many of the kids probably wouldn’t have finished high school, but now they are college graduates.
“They all have a different view of what their future is going to be,” she said, “versus what it was before I got them.”