There are eight kids and the number keeps growing in the Martin household.
Darrell Martin and Laurie Martin, two Seymour Middle School science teachers, during the course of the past eight years have been foster parents in Bartholomew County for more than 20 children.
That’s a lot of Father’s Day cards for one dad to get.
“He never thought other people’s kids would be calling him dad,” Laurie Martin said. “Everybody thinks we’re crazy, but we love it.”
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The Martins have four biological children: Katie, 18; Drew, 16; Lillie, 14; and Emmaleigh, 12.
They began to seriously consider becoming foster parents when Drew, at the age of five, asked them to pray about having another boy. He wanted a little brother to play with.
“I was just willing to give it a try,” Darrell Martin said. “My wife felt a strong calling.”
Laurie Martin, who was adopted by her stepfather as a young girl, has watched their involvement in foster care change her husband.
“He is a really forgiving, compassionate guy,” Laurie Martin said. “Probably more sensitive than a lot of guys I know. He’s a kid at heart, but he also has that strong empathetic part, too.”
Darrell Martin has embraced his role as a foster father. He rarely says no to a call from the Department of Child Services.
About three years into fostering, a call brought a pair of siblings — Kaden, now 12; and Serenity, now 4 — into their home. The door to adoption opened, and by 2012 the Martins were their legal guardians.
“I didn’t know if I could love a (foster) kid exactly the way I love my own kids,” Darrell Martin said. “I thought maybe I’d love them, but it wouldn’t be the same.”
That didn’t turn out to be the case. He thinks God had a lot to do with that.
Fostering is considered on open-ended situation. Children may stay for a couple days or a couple years. Since the program’s goal is to reunite children with their parents whenever possible, the Martins have learned to guard their hearts.
“One of the hardest parts of fostering is letting go of a child,” Darrell Martin said. “Even with the ones you know are going to go back, it’s still really hard. There is a hole left in your heart, and in your family. “
Darrell Martin admits that he probably cries more often than the average man.
“Sometimes I feel bad that you go through a visit with the parents, and the kids come running back to you with their arms wide open, happy to see you again,” he said. “There is just a joy in knowing that they need you on some level.”
The Martin’s six-bedroom home has never housed more than eight children for a long period of time, but temporary situations have put the count of kids in the Marten home upward of 11. They’ve taken in children as young as infants and as old as 12.
“We always said that we would not take a child older than our oldest,” Darrell said.
“We didn’t want to throw off the hierarchy.”
Through it all, the Martin children have remained positive about their parents’ decision to continue fostering. Everybody does their part to help Mom and Dad. They each have a designated chore and know that they have to help their brothers and sisters buckle up for car rides.
“They have always accepted new kids into the home,” Darrell Martin said. “We have never had any major problems. I think they understand why we do it.”
The couple is happy to be able to provide a safe, comfortable and supportive two-parent household for so many children. It’s a home where honesty and respect are valued, and where homework gets done on time.
“We are religious. By a lot of standards some people would call us pretty strict or pretty conservative,” Darrell Martin said. “I think some of the kids that have come into our home have been a little surprised by the structure that is there. Sometimes when you’ve had no structure at all, that’s kind of what you want even though you don’t know it.”
Their roles as parents differ and Laurie Martin talks about her husband with admiration, as he plays a role that has no substitute.
“The mom can offer fixing the boo-boos, but the dad can rough house. The boys need that,” Laurie Martin said. “The girls just need their strong daddy to listen when they’re sad.”
Both Martins have learned a lot about parenting along the way.
“Before we had foster kids, we used to spank our kids,” Laurie Martin said. “When you get foster kids, you can’t use any kind of discipline like that at all. We’ve learned to deal with things a little bit more on the calm side. It’s funny how much kids can teach the adults.”
As members of The Point in Seymour, they count it as a blessing to be able to include their foster children in their worship time.
“God is watching out for them,” Darrell Martin said. “There is a support from God that they can tap into.”
Darrell and Laurie Martin don’t use the phrase foster children in their home. Whether biological, adopted or fostered, to the Martins they are all their kids.
“I don’t want anyone saying that they are less than anybody else,” Laurie Martin said. “I always say, ‘God put just as much care and love into that person as he did into the next.’ Kids can get so caught up in the differences and not see their worth.”
There is a strain that comes from having to shuttle two carloads of kids around town, however.
“It’s a hard job,” Laurie Martin said. “Sometimes in life you have to do hard things just because it’s the right thing, not the easy thing.”
For Darrell Martin there is simply nothing like being a dad, or being a dad to so many — on Father’s Day or any other day.
“You think about the things you know you didn’t do right because you’re a human being and you make mistakes,” Darrell Martin said. “You regret some of those things, but you still see the love in those kid’s eyes or get that hug that says you’re important. You get that from the foster kids, too.”
With only 18 licensed foster homes in Bartholomew County, more foster families are needed. Here are the steps required to become licensed as foster parents, according to the Indiana Department of Child Services.
- Pass a background check
- Prove financial stability
- Pass a home inspection by DCS
- Provide updated medical statements for everyone in the household
- Complete a pre-service training that is 10 hours in total
- Become first-aid, CPR and precautions training certified
- Provide personal references
- Pass a home visit with a regional licensing specialist
- Complete the Casey Foster Family Assessments
- Complete all the forms in the licensing packet
Department of Child Services
Location: 3528 Two Mile Road, Columbus
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Contact: Heather Angebrandt, local office director
There are more than 500,000 children in foster care in the United States, according to a 2005 report by the Casey Family Programs.