Full House: Old Town Woman Fosters A Baby, Plus His Parents
When a child enters the foster care system in Maine, the goal is to reunite them with their parents — but less than half of the kids ever are.
Even when reunification is successful, the temporary separation can be traumatic. One family in Old Town recently tried a unique arrangement to avoid that trauma. A woman agreed to foster an entire family, parents included.
For more than three decades, Bette Hoxie of Old Town, along with her husband, who has since passed away, has been raising kids. Three of her own, eight who are adopted and 150 foster children.
At 71, Hoxie now has more than three-dozen grandchildren. Nine-month old Landyn is one of them. Hoxie steps away from the homemade applesauce she’s stirring on her kitchen stove to play with Landyn, who has been living with her for nearly six months — and so have his parents.
Robert Seeley is one of the 150 foster kids who lived under Hoxie’s roof. He was just a toddler when he and his brother came to live with her. It was only for a few months, but their relationship continued for years. They’d frequently stay at Hoxie’s house on weekends and during summers.
Now 35, Rob still calls her Mom Bette.
“With Mom Bette and her husband, Joe, I don’t think I ever felt more of having a family life than I was here,” he says.
Rob’s life has been turbulent. As a child, his mother married and divorced several times. He has a history of substance use. He started with pain medication, then moved to heroin, cocaine and meth. He got arrested for making meth in early 2016.
“To be honest, I’m glad I got caught,” he says.
By this point, Rob and his wife, Bonnie, had been together — and using drugs — for several years. Rob’s arrest, and the news around this time that Bonnie was pregnant, became the impetus for them to stop. But their history put them on the radar of the Department of Health and Human Services, and there was a possibility that Landyn would be taken into state custody.
“It is scary because you don’t know if something’s going to happen, if they’re going to take your son, and you’re not going to get him back,” Rob says.
Soon after Landyn was born, Rob served a three-month jail sentence. Once he was released, Rob was only allowed to see his son once a week, for two hours. He didn’t have a place to live. So Rob asked Hoxie if he could stay at her house.
“It’s just a safe place. I knew that drugs weren’t around. And I needed a stable place where someone would care,” he says.
Hoxie took Rob in. But the separation from Landyn was painful — for everybody, says Bonnie.
“That was really hard,” she says. “He’s my baby and I wanted him to be a part of — I wanted him to be with his father too. We got married for that reason. We wanted to have our family together.”
Hoxie wanted to see the family together too.
“I always thought when doing foster care that if families could stay together they’d be much more successful. And I’ve seen the damage, quite honestly, of what happens when kids are disrupted from their families. And for a newborn to have that happen, I mean they naturally attach to the person who caretakes for them 24/7,” she says.
Hoxie offered to take in the whole family and worked with DHHS to devise a safety plan where Rob and Bonnie would have 24/7 supervision. Hoxie still works — she’s the director of Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine — so her adult daughter who lives at home would supervise the couple during the day. Hoxie would supervise on evenings and weekends.
Bonnie and Landyn officially moved in in April. It was an adjustment, Bonnie says.
“We couldn’t be alone with him at all because they were afraid of relapse. And I understand that, but at first it kinda made me really upset because being a parent, it’s hard to have someone saying you can’t have your son all the time,” she says.
Hoxie says it was clear from the beginning that Rob and Bonnie were competent taking care of Landyn. But they had other issues to work out.
“I mean, it wasn’t always perfect. There were times where we thought, ‘Huh. Are they going to be successful?’ Not because of substance abuse, but they needed lots of counseling between the two of them,” Hoxie says.
Rob and Bonnie do go to counseling for trauma and substance use, as required by DHHS. They also take optional parenting classes. Hoxie and her daughter coach and encourage them at home.
Rob says even doing typical family things have helped, like going apple picking with other members of Hoxie’s family and sitting down to Sunday dinners.
“It’s a structural family. It’s an actual family life. When you’ve had a rough life, to have someone that cares about you so much and help you through everything, and the support, it changes a person to know that someone could love you so much after you’ve done so wrong,” he says.
Landyn is not Rob’s first child — he has nine others from previous relationships. He says drugs have kept him out of their lives, but this arrangement with Hoxie is a chance to be a different kind of father to Landyn.
By mid-September the family has lived with Hoxie for five months. Rob and Bonnie have gradually earned unsupervised time with Landyn. First hours, then days, then overnights. They’re anxious to be free of supervision altogether, but they have to wait for permission from DHHS.
During lunch one day the phone rings and Hoxie picks it up. A couple minutes later, she pokes her head into the dining room. DHHS has lifted their supervision. Rob lowers his head down to Landyn’s, and cradles it between his hands.
“We did it,” Rob says, crying.
As soon as they find housing, Rob and Bonnie can move out on their own. On average in Maine, it takes a little more than a year for a family involved in foster care to reunify and leave the system. Rob and Bonnie were able to do it in less than half that time.
“Without Mom being our support and her being here for us, we wouldn’t be here right now. We wouldn’t be this good off,” Rob says.
A spokeswoman for DHHS says the arrangement with Rob, Bonnie and Bette Hoxie was unique, and there are no plans to grow the model. But Hoxie thinks it could be replicated and that other families would benefit.
“I don’t think it’s easy, and I don’t think it’s 100 percent that it’s going to work, but I think that for those families that are willing to give it a try, I wish there was more of an incentive in the department to make it happen,” she says.
As much as Rob and Bonnie have accomplished in the past several months, Rob says he knows there are challenges ahead.
“It’ll be a challenge to prove to the world that we can do this, and that we’re never going to relapse, and, you know, see where life takes us,” he says.
Wherever that is, Rob and Bonnie plan to live near Hoxie so she can be a regular part of their life. Landyn needs his grandma, they say — and they need her too.
This story was originally published Oct. 6, 2017 at 4:46 p.m. ET.