After raising four sons, Jalene and Mark Huff still had energy for more children. That was six years and six foster children ago.
“At first we thought we wanted young children,” recalled Kapa‘a resident Mark Huff, who now sings the praises of teenagers. “We moved here in 2001 and did the training and when we finished the course, they asked what age we wanted. We said for our first round, 12 or below.”
When the social worker called with a seven year-old sister and 13 year-old brother they reconsidered.
“When they first came to us it was instant mesh — perfect chemistry with my wife and I,” Huff said. “Nick and Teresa flourished when they moved in with us.”
After two months, the couple was approached again, this time asking them to consider a deeper commitment to Nicholas and Teresa.
“The social worker said he’d never seen a match like this and asked if we’d consider adoption,” he said. “We talked to the kids and they were game.”
Huff told the two that they could stay as long as they’d like and if their mother got her act together, could return to her. Their mother relinquished custody without argument.
“But then this aunt appears out of the east,” Huff said. “An aunt they didn’t know — who wanted to adopt them.”
A custody battle ensued. The psychologist in charge of their case was described by Huff as someone who advocates for placing kids with blood relatives. Luckily she considered the Huffs an exception. By this time, the siblings had lived with the family for two years.
“She saw they’d bonded with us and it would be more damaging for them to move again,” he said. “They were calling us mom and dad — fortunately the judge ruled in our favor.”
Over all the Huffs have fostered six children — some staying for as little as one week, others as long as a year.
“We haven’t had a kid we couldn’t love,” Huff said.
This month the family was chosen by Senator Daniel Akaka as the Hawai‘i representative family for National Adoption Awareness Month. A portrait of the family hangs in Akaka’s office.
In November 2006, Voice for Adoption, in collaboration with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and Fostering Families helped members of Congress raise awareness of the importance of special needs adoption by hanging a portrait of a family from their home state that has adopted children from foster care. Participating Congress members learn about a constituent family’s adoption experiences, as well as the way federal child welfare laws and programs help support the family.
The Huffs were also recognized by the organization in November when their story was included in the “Adoptive Family Portrait Project,” a publication compiled of adoptive families by Voice for Adoption.
Having already raised four teenagers, Huff was surprised at how much easier it was on this second pass through adolescence.
“One of the things I noticed with these children — that was the opposite of our own — was their appreciation,” he said. “It’s true what they say, familiarity breeds contempt. Your own children have always been with you and take for granted the way you treat them. These kids come from neglect. They appreciate us as parents more.”
At first social workers warned the Huffs of a “honey moon period” that lasts a few months — once the kids get comfortable they might start acting out.
“We never had that. Here we are six years later and we’ve never had a major problem. Every time we get a child we are excited,” he said.
What is the key to their success?
“You have to give them structure,” he said. “They get the rules the first day. The security comes from the schedule. That’s when they start to thrive. They know we are picking them up from school; that dinner is always around 5, and bedtime is 8:30. When they don’t have to make those decisions, they are free to be a kid.”
The Huffs didn’t actually plan to enforce this routine though. What they came to discover was that consistency builds trust.
“I was doing it without knowing what we were doing. Once they get a schedule, they relax. Just give them a place to be safe and loved,” he said.
Huff is also Hawai‘i’s spokesperson for Adoptuskids.org, a Website that lists children who are up for adoption throughout the United States. As a spokesperson, Huff can offer insight to other potential families on life as a foster and adoptive parent. For more information visit the Website or call Mark at 652-0892, or to learn about becoming a foster parent call Hale ‘Opio at 245-2873, ext. 227.
Huff also plays music with his adopted daughter, Teresa. He plays guitar, ukulele and bass and Teresa sings and plays ukulele. From 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow, Huff — under the stage name Mark James — will perform songs from his CD with Teresa for the opening of the Kukui Grove Shopping Center parade. They will perform in the breezeway next to Star Market, followed by a one-hour performance from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the center stage.
• Pam Woolway, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or email@example.com