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February 8, 2003

Just a little love: family shares home with needy children

From: KYTV, MO - 08 Feb 2003

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Vicky Newport sat in the recliner while her children came home from school on a recent day. Some of them handed her notebooks and folders of what they'd done that day.

Her son handed Newport his folder and stuck out his lower lip as she punished him for misbehaving in class -- 15 minutes of quiet time in his bedroom.

“You can go quietly, without kicking and screaming and sit up there for 15 minutes, or you can make a lot of noise and stay there until dinner,'' Newport said. “Which one sounds better to you?''

As he made his way upstairs, Newport shook her head and gave a small grin.

“It's all about giving them choices,'' Vicky said. “I can't make you do anything but we'll love you all the way through it.''

Vicky Newport and her husband, Everett, know a lot about love. They have 18 children, 12 of whom still live at home.

It all started in 1994 when Everett Newport was a children's minister. He learned of a church member who'd lost her home and lived in her car with five children. The Newports, who each had two children from previous marriages, became the children's guardians. Not knowing about the foster system, they took on all the financial responsibility for the children, including a little girl with leukemia.

“Someone suggested we go into foster care and put the kids in state custody,'' Vicky Newport said.

The Newports cared for the five children until 1996 when the Division of Family Services moved them to another foster home. The Newports had become licensed foster parents and DFS asked them to foster more children. Foster families are only allowed to foster six children at a time so, when DFS called to place three of the original foster children back in the Newports’ home, the couple had a tough decision to make.

“It forced us to either make three kids leave or go group home,'' Vicky said. “Some of the kids had been with us for some time.''

They were afraid becoming a group home meant their house would turn into an institution of sorts. They soon learned the difference between a home environment and an institution -- love.

“It's just a mom and pop shop,'' Vicky said.

Because the couple already had teenage girls, they decided in the beginning that they'd only take teenage girls.

“The sad thing about the system is, once the kids get old enough, no one wants to adopt them,'' Vicky Newport said.

Slowly, the diversity of the children began to change. The family ended up fostering a deaf girl and her sister. Now, whenever there is a deaf child in Jackson County, the Newports are the first family called.

“We only knew very little sign language,'' Vicky said. “Bringing her into our home kind of forced our hand into learning.''

That's how they started getting boys. Vicky Newport said DFS called for five months, asking the family to take in a little deaf boy but the family was apprehensive.

“Deaf children are very hard to work with,'' Vicky said. “Communicating a simple math problem could take up to one hour.''

The entire family got together and discussed whether they could meet the little boy's needs, something they do with every child.

Everett Newport said because fostering children affects the entire family, every member has a say in whether to bring a specific child into the home. After weighing all the options, the family votes.

“You've got to figure out what your family is capable of,'' he said. “If they can meet the needs of that child.''

Cooperation from all the children is what makes the home run smoothly, Vicky Newport said. The first child wakes up every morning at 4:30. When she is done in the shower, she wakes the next one up. The last bus leaves somewhere around 8 a.m.

“It takes a team effort,'' Vicky Newport said. “Our kids have been awesome.''

Vicky Newport said, whenever a new child comes into the home, the older children start offering their clothes. She said most of the older children act as mentors for the younger ones because they've all been in similar situations.

“It gives them a purpose,'' she said. “They can pass on what they've gotten.''

Even with 18 kids, the Newports still find a way to make time for all the children. Biological daughter Chelle, 19, said she never felt sibling rivalry towards any of the foster children when she still lived at home. She even finds it hard not to get attached to the children.

Vicky Newport said they wouldn't take babies initially but they've had two infants in their home in the last year. She says it's really hard when the babies leave.

“Each time a younger one goes, you let a piece of yourself go out that door,'' she said. “With the older ones, you know you'll always be a part of their lives. With the younger ones, you never know.''

With 12 children still at home, Vicky Newport admits things can get crazy at times. She said everyone’s pitching-in avoids a lot of the craziness people would expect with such a large family. Each child has his or her chores. They all take turns cooking dinner.

“We're just like the 'Waltons,' only twice as big,'' Vicky Newport said. “Our pans aren't any bigger.''

Still, there are some activities in which the Newports stand out. Like going to Taco Bell.

Chelle said the family has to call in advance when they want to go to the restaurant.

“I went through one day and asked for 100 tacos,'' Chelle said. “They were like, 'No really. How can I help you?'''

At church, when the whole family attends the same services, they take up one and a half rows. Church members tease the family, calling Vicky Newport “Mother Duck.''

One thing the Newports try to instill in all their children is the importance of faith. Both agree that becoming foster parents was the will of God. Their strong faith is something they hope to pass on to each child who stays in their home. Every child who comes through the Newports’ door is greeted with a Bible.

Everett said it's important for every child to feel they belong somewhere. They just want to make sure every child feels loved.

“When you come here, you're family,'' Everett said. “I consider you my daughter. I consider you my son. If you don't want anyone to know you're a foster kid, don't tell them.''

Contrary to popular opinion, it does not take millionaires with huge homes to be foster parents. The Newports get financial assistance through the state to help with food and clothing for the children.

They also receive a lot of help from the Midwest Foster and Adoption Association, an organization made up of foster parents to help other foster families. The organization provides food, clothing and day-care for the families.

“Most people think they don't have enough experience,'' Vicky Newport said about why more people aren't foster parents. “If it's done right, it shouldn't be a financial burden. All it takes is love.''

© 2003 KYTV