Foster parents: Love at work

Phil and Lynn Luttrell of Wailua have five children of their own, but have taken care of scores of foster children from Kaua’i since 1981.

The couple has striven to provide a safe, nurturing and loving environment for their charges, some of whom have been victims of abuse and neglect by their parents.

Henry and Terry Lange of Lihu’e have four children of their own, but have been foster parents of Kaua’i youths since 1992. The Langes have helped some of their charges deal with suicide, drug use and emotional growth.

Like the Luttrells, the Langes have remained as foster parents because they love their foster children and have wanted to help children who have been forgotten by others.

Although Phil Luttrell won’t be on island for the event, his wife and the Langes will be among more than 70 Kauai foster parents who will be honored during a luncheon at the Terrace Restaurant on May 22.

The foster parents will be recognized for having provided temporary, alternate homes for about 100 foster children on Kaua’i who have been removed from neglectful or abusive parents. In many cases, they returned to their own homes after productive stays at foster homes.

The event is being thrown by the Kauai Foster Care Training Committee, consisting of foster parents and representatives from Hale Opio Kauai Inc.

Other committee members include representatives from the Hawaii Foster Parents Association, YWCA, state Department of Human Services, Child and Family Services, the Department of Health, the Queen Lili’uokalani Children’s Center, KAPA, Hawaii Behavioral Health and the Department of Health.

The main goal of the committee has been to provide “nurturing, support and training for caregivers,” according to Marcia Ota and Kirstie Kashima, both members of the committee and social workers with the Department of Human Services office on Kaua’i.

The guest speaker will be Pam Woolway, program coordinator for the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center.

She was a foster child, and her birth family became foster parents and provided emergency shelter services for more than 400 teenagers.

Officials with the Department of Human Services say that many people have said they are concerned about the “tragedy of child abuse and neglect” and know the family structure is needed for raising healthy children. However, not many people have become foster parents.

Foster children have experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse and exposure to drugs.

The children felt anger and needed time to learn that adults can be trusted and that adults aren’t going to hurt them, officials said, adding that foster parents help such children to heal.

Phil Luttrell said he and his wife decided to become foster parents after doctors told them in the late 1970s they could not have their own children.

Although they had children in later years, the Luttrells opted to adopt at the time. However, they couldn’t do so because there weren’t any children available for adoption for them at the time, Luttrell said.

Luttrell said Hawaii state Department of Social Services’ officials gave them an alternative: become foster parents.

Luttrell said taking in foster children over the past 20 years had brought “highs and lows” but that the experience has been rewarding.

Luttrell said he and his wife had considered bowing out of the program after each time a child spent time with them and was returned to her or his family.

But Luttrell said he and his wife have stayed with the program because “it is a very much needed thing on the island, and there is an opportunity to touch children’s lives.”

The couple’s first child stayed with them for five years before moving on. Today, that child is a 30-year-old man living on O’ahu who keeps in touch with the Luttrells.

“We are still his family. He comes to Kaua’i and spends Christmas and the holidays with us,” Luttrell said.

Four of the children the couple has taken care of have been adopted, including some by friends, Luttrell said.

Luttrell, a minister with Child Evangelism Fellowship, said he has attempted to pass on Christian values to his charges.

“We have shown them a world of love, nurturing and life that is not one of chaos, but a life of structure and stability,” Luttrell said. “We hope they have gone to a normal life.”

Luttrell said his foster children have stayed with him and his family an average of three to six months. The youths ranged from two days of age to 16 years of age.

Luttrell said saying good-bye to his foster children is emotional and difficult.

“It always hurts when the children leave,” he said. “But we have touched their lives so that they know when they become adults, they can live a different life (from the one with biological parents that led to abuse and neglect).”

Henry Lange said he and his wife first became foster parents in 1985, when they lived in Riverside, Ca.

At the time, his wife, Terry, ran a licensed day care center and he worked as an operations manger for a company, Lange said.

While Terry took care of two children, their mother told her that she could no longer care for them and wondered if Terry could be a foster parent to her children. The Langes discussed it and agreed to do so.

The experience for the Langes was successful, and two foster children eventually went back to their father.

The Langes lost track of one of them, but they kept in touch with the other, now a 24-year man living in Riverside, Ca., Lange said, adding ” he calls us mom and dad.”

The Langes brought two other foster children with them when they moved to Kaua’i in July 1992. Luttrell now works as a sales manager for Rasco Supply Co. and his wife works for Hawaii Care and Cleaning, a cleaning company.

Since becoming foster parents, the Langes have taken care of 30 foster children whose ages have ranged from three months to 17 years of age.

The Langes have continued participation in the foster care program because “we love children,” Lange said.

“I was abused growing up and want to help children. That is our goal,” said Lange, who is 58 years old. “Fortunately, I married a good lady (she is 50) who wants to do this (foster care) with me.”

Lange is dedicated to his role as a foster parent. To be with his children, including his own, he has scheduled his daily workshift from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. to spend time with them.

The Langes have experienced highs and lows in caring for foster children. “We deal with suicides, overdose. We handle it all,” Lange said.

In addition to caring for four children of their own, the Langes currently take care of three foster children and one child under guardianship status.

That status means the child’s parents either gave up their claim to the child or the child was taken away from biological parents.

When children with “guardianship” status reached 18 years of age, they “are on their own,” Lange said.

In addition to the four children the couple has taken into their home, the Langes can take in another two children in an emergency, Lange said.

Some of the foster children have stayed with the couple for “two years, four years,” Lange said. Following consultation with social workers and others, a judge has determined the length of stay of a child in a household, Lange said.

All of the work has been worth it, Lange said, adding that he foresees being a foster parent for many years.

“Everybody has given up on these kids. And we feel we want to try and make a difference,” Lange said. “We aren’t giving up.”

For more information about the foster parent program on Kaua’i, call 274-3301 or 274-3303.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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