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He doesn’t live there anymore, but he knows he always has a home if he needs one.
After walking into his former home, he says, “Hi mom, I’m hungry.”
“You know where it is,” his former foster mom replies.
Fred and Renee’ Miller of Campbellsville, who have adopted and fostered children for more than 13 years, were recently honored for their willingness to open their home to children who don’t have one.
According to a state news release, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services honored nine families with adoptive parent awards. The Millers were chosen to represent the Cumberland Region, which encompasses 18 counties.
The release states that there are more than 7,000 children in out-of-home care in Kentucky. Of those, more than 1,800 have a goal of being adopted and about 300 are available for adoption now.
The Millers, who were unable to have children, have adopted four and been foster parents to about 50 others. Fred also has a biological child and the couple has four grandchildren.
They began the process of adopting three biological siblings, Shana, Johnathon and Dylan, in 1999 at the ages of 3, 5 and 6. They are now 17, 18 and 19.
“So we’ve had them pretty much all their life,” Renee’, an office manager at Internal Medicine Associates, said. And she says she and her husband are two of only a few foster parents in Taylor County willing to house teenagers. That could be because some parents are worried about behavioral issues, Renee’ said.
“It’s not easy. There’s violence, there’s drugs, there’s sex.”
Over the years, the Millers have opened their home to children of all ages, from 12 days to 18 years old, the age where teens are released from the foster care system if they don’t join a continuing education program.
“I think we’ve been very blessed,” Fred, the director of distance education at Campbellsville University, said. “We’ve had some age out with us.”
The Millers adopted another son, Roger, last year, after he lived in their home for about a year. He had been in foster care for seven years and lived in 21 other foster homes.
“We had swore we’d never adopt again,” Renee’ said. “Roger, he stole our hearts. Can’t imagine my life without him now.
“Nobody wanted him. He didn’t want them. A lot of them.”
The Millers’ experience with adoption and fostering began shortly before they adopted their three children. Renee’ had tried several fertility treatments to have children, but hadn’t been successful.
“I just didn’t want to do it anymore,” she said. “I had had my fill. We just felt the need to help kids.”
And many of the children who needed foster families didn’t have any biological family members to care for them.
“I told Fred, I can’t imagine not having anybody in my life forever,” Renee’ said. The Millers began fostering children about a week before they adopted. The adoption began when a friend told them about three children who needed a home. The friend told the Millers about the children — the good and the bad — and then asked if they were interested in giving them a home. “Then she pulled out the picture and we fell in love,” Renee’ said. “We both looked at each other and said, ‘Yes.’”
After deciding to adopt, the Millers took adoption training.
“We came home with two hours of credit and three children,” Renee’ said.
After the adoption, the Millers took a break from fostering to form bonds with their new children.
The adoption took 85 days to finalize. But they say Shana was ready to live with them much sooner.
The day after finding that she had a “forever” home, Renee’ said, Shana told her teacher, “Pack my stuff. I’m moving. I’ve got a mommy and daddy.”
About a year after their adoption was final, the Millers began fostering again. Since then, they say, they have experienced many ups and downs as foster parents. Some children, the Millers said, rebel against the rules while others seem to embrace them.
“We follow the rules,” Renee’ said. “We’re by the book.”
And that has caused some problems, they say.
“I tell my kids, if there’s a rule, there’s a reason,” Fred said. “Lesson No. 1 through 10 in fostering is pick your battles.”
Renee’ said some of the foster children tell them that she isn’t their mother when given directions.
“[I say], no I’m not your mother. But when you’re living with me you are one of my children.
“We are dealing with the bigger issues. They’re making life choices and we try to expose them to the world. “We want to model what a typical family would be. We cook food. We eat meals. We take care of the yard.”
Many years and about 50 children since they began fostering in 1999, the family’s home has suffered a few blemishes.
“They say love builds a home. Love is destroying ours,” Fred said, with a laugh. “We have a unique decorating style. When a fist goes through a wall, we hang a picture.”
The Millers have plenty of stories to tell about their experiences with foster children. Since 2001, they said, they have been without foster children for about six months. As of last week, they had three and thought they might be getting a fourth.
“Unfortunately, there’s just a lot of kids that are removed,” Renee’ said.
Their very first foster children, Fred said, were ages 2 and 8 months. He said his wife became sick when they arrived, so he ended up taking care of them on his own.
A girl who stayed with the Millers for a weekend attended a family reunion with the Millers. Photos taken during the reunion show the girl, who none of the family members knew.
Saying goodbye to foster children can be tough, Renee’ said, even though the goal of fostering is to return children to their biological parents.
“I still cry when they leave. You can’t help but become attached to them.”
The Millers say them opening their home to children is how they give back.
“And this is a ministry to us,” Fred said. His wife agrees.
“Well, we couldn’t do this without God. It’s definitely a calling,” Fred said.
The Millers, who have before only been honored on the local level for their adoption and fostering, say they are overwhelmed and humbled to have been honored for a regional award.
“It was a ‘Wow’ moment, Fred said. “They could have given it to any of 100 families. We’re representative of a group of people that love children.”
And the Millers share that love with others by Renee’ teaching classes and mentoring other adoptive and foster families.
She says Taylor County is one of the most active areas in the Cumberland region for fostering, though there are few foster homes here.
“There’s still a stigma about being a foster child,” Renee’ said.
“[People may believe] there’s something wrong with you, you’ve done something,” Fred said. Those interested in adopting can contact Venessa Nunn at the state’s Department for Community Based Services office at 465-3549.
Renee’ said people should research adoption and fostering because so many children need homes.
“Because kids need love,” she said. “Foster children need someone to fill in while their biological parents are working on their issues.”
Though it once would have been, the question of whether the Millers will adopt more children isn’t readily answered.
“Never say never,” Fred said.