Soldiers Grove foster family reminds all that it takes a village to raise a child

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Pictured, Colleen and Wade Dull, at their Soldiers Grove home, have raised biological, foster and adopted children for more than two decades. (Photo by Rachel Mergen)

By Rachel Mergen

As the biological parents of four children—three sons and a daughter—Colleen and Wade Dull had experienced both the joys and the hardships of parenting. They knew it wasn’t easy to be everything that a child needed, but they gave their children safe, happy lives. 

The couple wanted to be certain more children had the same happiness their own children had, which led to opening their seven-bedroom home and farm for foster children for the past 20 years. 

“It was a realization that kids needed homes,” Colleen explained. Their original home was a bit too small to expand their family, but once they moved into a larger home, they opened their doors to children in need of stable, healthy situations. “We were like ‘ah, well, we can do this.’”

Since then, they have helped over 25 children. The first was a challenging situation, having no prior experience in foster care. The couple learned not all children were similar to their own. Each had his or her own background, which really carved how they acted, and the Dulls realized the importance of working with the foster children’s families. 

“Some parents think we’re trying to take their children away, but we’re not. We’re trying to help them better understand their child,” Wade said. 

The children are never simply brought directly into the Dulls’ home when problems arise. The goal is to always see if it is possible for the children to live with family members. If that is not possible, the next goal is to be able to keep them in their school districts, so their entire lives are not uprooted. 

When foster care is needed, the children are welcomed with open arms. The biological children quickly worked to understand the foster children, being role models for them on how to act in a more structured situation.

“Over the years, the children have adapted amazingly,”  Colleen said. Their daughter was, in a way, according to Colleen, a third mother to the kids. The children had the goal of “just being a sibling” to the foster children. They talked to them, played games and helped drive them places. 

The couple and their children were thrilled to be able to accommodate those who lacked stable homes—like those whose parents abused alcohol or drugs, those with behavioral issues, or those whose families just didn’t have enough of a support system to work through troubling times. Their goal is to always reunite the children with their parents, when the situation is stable and there is a healthy home to go back to. 

The Dulls enjoy giving a home to children that allows them to grow, become more academically successful and develop the skills needed to care for themselves. For a lot of foster children, speech issues can be a problem, and the couple has witnessed them make progress in this topic. 

The foster children in their care also often became more outgoing and knowledgeable about the world, as Colleen and Wade made it one of their goals to bring them to many places in the community, including church and stores. They also ask them to do chores around the house, like the other children, so that they can learn about responsibility.

The mental health of the children is a priority as, according to Colleen, “most of the time they come very frightened. Even if they are older kids, they are afraid. They come with baggage. They have the fear of everything being taken away from them. They don’t know what’s theirs. We have had kids who steal, but don’t really steal. They start hoarding things from the house, like the other kid’s toys or something, because they are afraid that they’re never going to have anything of their  own. After they have been here awhile, that loosens up a bit and they understand they have the right to play with whatever or do what they want to do.”

Every foster child comes into the home with attachment issues, as they have been pulled away from their parent.  According to Colleen, “in their eyes they do not know why. There are always emotional issues. There is always fear of being kicked out or abandoned.” For one child, they had to show him they would not give up on him, and they assured him of that by sticking it out.

It is a new step for some of the children just to have space to themselves and a bed to call their own. 

The children also learn about caring and family by sitting down at the table each evening for supper. 

“Sad and happy,” Colleen described the feeling of having the children go back to their homes. “I’ve yet to meet a foster child who does not want to go back to their home. It’s good for them if the family is reunited and if everything works—sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Some of them we miss a lot. We’ve been really lucky, because we’ve kept in touch. For the most part, we try to have a relationship with the parent too, if at all possible. We sort of become surrogate grandparents for some of them. We get to see them.” Their goal is to continue to offer a support system. 

The community of Soldiers Grove is also a huge support for the foster family, defining the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. 

“They hear when we get a new kid. A lot of kids come with no clothing, barely what they’ve got on, while some come with a lot. Those who come with very little, we hardly have to go out and buy a bunch of new stuff. We get supplied. They just bring stuff into us. Physically, people offer to baby-sit for us and do respite care for us,” Colleen noted. She noted that their families have gotten used to having the foster children around also.

For the Dulls, fostering has been a journey that’s led to much more. They’ve adopted six children, who, to them, are their biological children. The children were their foster kids for six months first. 

“They’re all just part of the family,” Colleen laughed. “They’re all just brothers and sisters. They don’t consider themselves anything but that.” 

Over the years, the Dulls have had many beautiful moments with their one-of-a-kind family. Campfires and camping stand out to them. 

Wade recalled, “I just remember the three boys. We were on vacation, and [our daughter] was taking care of them. They were painting the deck with mud. She then gave them a bath and they asked if they could have bubbles. She said OK, and put a bunch into the bathtub, then turned on the jets. That bathroom was full of soap.”

“[Two of the adopted daughters] grabbed their lipstick and eye shadow and they were running away. In their backpacks was nail polish, because that was the most important thing. I happened to be going to town, and I just see these two little heads bobbing up and down in the grass along the road and so I turned around and went back, and all of a sudden you see them duck down. I said, ‘get in.’ They were probably just mad about doing chores. They were going to a friend of ours, so they weren’t trying to do anything dangerous,” he continued, laughing with his wife. 

The children were adopted at a variety of ages, ranging from 1 to 10. Some of the children have much clearer memories of their time before the Dulls than others do. The three adopted sons are biological siblings, while two of the adopted daughters are also a set of siblings. The couple has a priority of wanting to keep siblings together, if possible. All of the children have connections with their fathers, while no knowledge exists about their mothers. Colleen works to help her children research their family members. 

Currently, only one of their children is living at home. The 10 children all live unique lives, some having families of their own. 

Not all of the children are completely immersed into the family for a long period of time. Some only stay in the house for a few nights, while others may join the family for well over a year. 

Occasionally, the couple takes part in the cases as respite. Respite—welcoming a child for weekends or a couple of nights—occurs when a foster family or parents need a break to deal with situations that are unhealthy for the children. With some cases proving more challenging, relief is necessary at times. Currently, this is what takes place most in the Dull home. 

Besides being parents, Wade and Colleen live very busy lives. Wade is a retired dairy farmer and is on the county board, along with holding a spot on the school board and other positions across the community. Colleen is a retired teacher. Both grew up in Soldiers Grove in large families, with Colleen having 10 siblings and Wade having 7. 

“Kids are worth it,” Colleen concluded. “If we don’t take care of these kids, the future is a mess.” 

Crawford County is in great need of foster families, with only seven in the area. To learn more about foster care or interested in becoming a foster parent, call Crawford County Health and Human Services at 326-0248 and ask for the foster care coordinator.

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