“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (Jn 13:34). These words have guided the hearts of a Fort Wayne couple throughout their lives, and throughout the lives of their 13 foster children and their adopted daughter and son.
Don and Mindy Cochran have opened their home to children ranging from 6 weeks to 17 years of age during their marriage. “Two sisters, Rachel and Angel, who were formerly students of mine, were responsible for getting me interested in foster care,” said Don, an instrumental music director at Bishop Dwenger, St. Vincent de Paul, Queen of Angels and St. Jude schools. “They were our first foster children and they changed the direction of our family. My life became focused on the kids in need. I wanted so badly to make a difference for these former students.”
He recalled when one of his early students wanted to play the flute. “There wasn’t an available one at the school, and no money was available for her to purchase an instrument. I called and pleaded with the music store to give this girl a chance and to please get a flute in her hands. They donated a flute, not to the school, but to this girl. I never told her it was donated until she left the school — when I finally told her that the flute was hers and to take care of it. That flute was her only belonging outside of her clothing, and meant a lot to her. Years later, in 2006, she and her sister became our first foster children.”
The biggest challenge the couple faced as foster parents was the understanding that they are there to simply provide a safe and nurturing environment, said Don.
“It’s hard seeing kids in that level of need. You work with DCS (Department of Child Services] on reunification, if it’s in the case plan, but you don’t want the children feeling like they are the outsiders in your home — but rather (you want them) to feel safe and included. That’s difficult when the State of Indiana is your legal guardian. It’s very hard for a child to understand,” said Don.
“Restrictions on the foster family, as well as the foster child, take both parties out of what they are used to as being ‘normal.’ We brought multiple babies into our home, and seeing the physical injuries, scars, cuts, bruises, malnutrition, emotional scars and anger, and seeing babies being doped in the bottle by their own biological parents, kids being exposed to sexual crimes, and educational neglect creates so much pain inside your heart.”
Such children need to know that they are wanted, needed and loved, and when a child gets in trouble for acting out, it’s hard to blame him or her, he added.
“They need attention. They need someone to ask them how their day went and tell them that their new haircut looks nice, that the picture they drew was really good and that they have a talent — that they matter.”
Kyleigh and Uriel are both 10 years old. Kyleigh came to the couple first; then Mexican-born Uriel, who will be getting his citizenship papers at St. Jude Parish on April 27, according to Don.
As a family, the four enjoy tent camping, hiking, learning about nature and fishing, said Mindy, who works at Bishop Dwenger High School in pastoral ministry and teaching life skills. She said her and Don’s Catholic faith formed the mission that led them into fostering and adopting children. “Not everyone can have children, but that’s OK because there are many children of all ages who need to be adopted and have a forever home. For the children we fostered and didn’t adopt, I pray we were a positive part of their life and their family’s lives.
“I believe we were able to help some families to become stronger and provide positive love and care to their children who returned to their homes or moved to a forever home,” she continued. “We opened our home and hearts in providing unconditional love and a family environment to children who needed to experience how and what families do.”
Holidays and birthdays were sometimes a challenge, though. “Not all foster children have had happy experiences with personal celebrations, and sometimes these milestones brought back traumatic memories for them,” said Mindy. “So we had to learn to be flexible, sensitive and simultaneously show them that those days can become pleasant events. We tried to tackle subjects like these as a family unit.”
Fostering also strengthened their marriage, said Mindy. “We had some rough times but with our faith and love, we got through each day.”
Though the Cochrans were not wealthy financially, they had an abundance of love to give. “For me, it was about love and helping those who are most in need,” said Don. “Every kid needs our love, because they can feel the comfort in love and can express themselves. Love is shared throughout the Gospels, and it just makes sense.”
There were mild regrets, however, in fostering-to-adopt children, such as missing out on some Hallmark moments such as baby showers and first-born baby pictures. But they celebrate every milestone they can, and in addition to their kids’ birthdays, the family makes a big deal annually about the kids’ adoption days.
“There are still moments when I watch Kyleigh and Uriel sing in their St. Jude School music programs; I have some tears on those occasions, and think how blessed we are to have them as our children and how God worked through many people to be the voices for Kyleigh and Uriel to be safe.”
Although the children were the same age when they came to the Cochrans, they had opposite personalities. Kyleigh was a social butterfly, always happy and on the move. Uriel, at 18 months, still did not walk or talk. If he cried, he had tears, but no sounds. He came to the couple only crawling. He was always hesitant to try new things.
“I will never forget the joyful tears when Uriel gently touched my cheek and said, ‘Hi, Momma!’” said Mindy. “He has a highly sensitive, caring heart and loves to give us hugs, kisses and telling us he loves us – something we never get tired of hearing. He is now a strong boy who enjoys sports. I look at him and marvel how far he has come.”
Kyleigh came to them at 9 months old, suffering from serious injuries, said Don.
“I was called by a caseworker, asking if I could go sit with a baby that was in the hospital. I recall holding her and remembering how even the first time I held her how tightly she would snuggle up to me. She wouldn’t let go. She lived in foster care with us for multiple years.
“I was scared about her future, especially when I read a statement from a doctor stating that a return at that time might result in imminent death. While praying over her crib, I prayed for Mother Teresa to please intercede on Kyleigh’s behalf and for whatever would be best for Kyleigh, for her to just please be safe.”
After night after night of asking St. Teresa of Kolkata to continue to pray for Kyleigh and to intercede, Kyleigh’s biological parents voluntarily terminated their parental rights. The Cochrans filed for adoption immediately.
“To this day I believe Mother Teresa had a hand in our family. The stained-glass window of Mother Teresa in the Queen of Saints Chapel in Bishop Dwenger High School receives my silent ‘Thank you’ every time I enter the chapel,” said Don.
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