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Indiana couple retires from foster parenting after 52 years

Posted 1:02 a.m. Sunday

— Rows of portraits depicting smiling children adorn the toy room walls in Fred and Barb Freeman's home. They're not quite sure just how many pictures hang in the room, but it doesn't matter.

What matters is that at one point or another, each child represented in the frames had a place to stay when they needed it. Even if the Freemans can't share the photos publicly, the snapshots offer a private reminder of the young lives they've tried to help for more than half a century.

But soon they won't add any more images to the collection. After 52 years of offering a stable home for kids in need, the Freemans are "retiring" from foster parenting at the end of June.

"One of the main things we've learned is the general public has no idea of how much need there is out there," Fred, 85, said.

The Freemans estimate they've fostered 150 to 200 children over five decades, some of whom stayed with the family on more than one occasion. Some kids were there for a short while; others had stints that lasted months or longer.

Barb was attending a meeting in Anderson back in the '60s when a woman from Indiana Department of Child Services took five minutes to talk about the need for foster parents.

She immediately thought, "That's not me."

"And then she said, 'If you have an empty crib, we need you,'" Barb, 81, said. "And then she said, 'If you have an empty bed, we need you.' And I thought, well, I've got both of those."

Since then, their home has been a revolving door for children who need a place to stay before they can go home or be adopted.

The Freemans had three biological children and eventually adopted three of their foster children, including Eva Gaillard, 48, and Ryan Freeman, 32.

Both were sent to live with Fred and Barb straight from the hospital and eventually adopted as toddlers.

Because her parents are giving to their community and Anderson church, Gaillard said the Bible verse James 1:27 describes them perfectly: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Gaillard said seeing other foster children come in and out of the home and her parents' guidance instilled compassion and taught her that everyone has a back story that shapes who they become.

It was important for the Freemans to keep that in mind when they received new kids, but they also ensured everyone followed the same rules.

"There really was no difference (between the Freeman kids and foster children). There was no favoritism," Ryan said. "Everybody was treated the same. I just always grew up with five or six brothers or sisters."

Fred and Barb fostered mostly young children, but they tried taking in a teenage boy who needed to be given a chance. Problems quickly arose, and they made the heartbreaking decision to have him relocated.

Guilt set in. Six years went by before they got a knock on a door.

The boy had become a grown man in the Navy, and he wanted to thank the couple for everything they tried to do for him.

When Barb used to teach foster parenting classes, she'd share the story as an example.

"I would tell them that story and I'd say, 'I'm not telling you this story to say we're doing such a great job,'" she said. "'I'm saying to you, if he hadn't come back here, we would have always felt guilty about it. So you never know the kind of impression you make on these kids.'"

The Freeman children have been encouraging their parents to take a step back from fostering and relax for the very first time.

The couple have finally decided to listen, but they admit they'll probably miss fostering once their last child leaves their care at the end of the month.

"But at the same time," Fred said, "we realize it's time to quit."

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Source: The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin, http://bit.ly/2sxif64

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