Everybody’s up at 5:30 am in Ed Peddell’s home. Soon after, breakfast is served and the older kids help the younger ones get geared up for school. At 7 a.m. sharp, the car pulls out of the driveway with all six kids aboard, stopping first at one daycare, then another, then at the bus stop.
By 8 o’clock, the car arrives at its final destination: the Fort Lauderdale, Florida school where Ed is a guidance counselor.
Many children Ed has encountered in his 35 years in education have come from, as he says it, “rough” situations, and many have been in foster care. So when he finally decided to become a parent 11 years ago, he chose foster parenting. About 60 kids have since lived in his home.
Ed uses behavior charts and gold stars, clear rules and expectations to keep his household running smoothly.
“When I have social workers visit the home, they say it looks like a school or a daycare.” This, he says, is how up to six kids at a time, all with their own behavioral, medical or emotional problems, can successfully live together and improve day by day in his home.
Once a year, he has a big barbecue in the park for all the kids he’s fostered and their families. He chokes up talking about how meaningful it is for him that the vast majority show up each year.
Four years ago, Ed’s structured, balanced system experienced an upset.
“There was a baby who was born and was 1.5 pounds,” Ed recalls. The mother had taken a laundry list of drugs while pregnant and the baby was fighting to survive. When baby Steven finally went home at 6 months old, he went home with Ed, joining five foster kids already living there.
Then, Steven’s biological parents gained approval for weekly unsupervised visits, a first step toward gaining custody of their child. When she completed her case plan, Steven’s mother had the opportunity to take Steven and her two older children, who were in another foster parent’s care, home with her.
Instead, she chose to keep her two older children and terminate her parenting right of Steven, leaving him open for adoption.
“The mother felt that she had no connection with her son,” Ed says. Ed was offered the first opportunity to take him.
“I had never really dreamt of adopting any of the kids. It was just my intention to foster them and give them back.”
But somehow, Steven was different. Ed felt the powerful weight of a human being depending on him completely from Day One.
“When you receive a child from birth or from a very, very young age, you become the only person that they know,” Ed says. “[They] learn your smells. They learn your touch. They learn your sound. They cling to you. They bond to you.”
That bond turned Ed’s world upside down and changed his mind about adoption. “Florida had just passed a bill saying that gays could adopt, so that wasn’t a question anymore,” he says. “The question was that this little guy was going to change my life forever.”
Ed took on the mountain of medical expenses required to treat the Steven’s health challenges. Now, Steven is a healthy, happy toddler.
Meanwhile, Ed has taken on helping five other kids with their unique struggles. Currently, Ed cares for Jordan, a 1-year-old (photo, top leftmiddle row, leftmiddle row, right); and three 4-year-olds, Steven, Samuel, and Justin (bottom row). The dog Lassiette completes the current family picture.
David has autism. Sarai was born with a cleft palate.
“[Sarai] has issues with self esteem and feeling a part of her class, a part of school, a part of society in general,” Ed says. In her time with Ed, she has had two surgeries and is preparing for a third. She’s even gotten a new hairstyle.
“We’ve kind of given her a complete makeover.”
Ed says these children with huge obstacles did not land in his household by accident, that his years of devotion and time spent caring for struggling children have earned him rapport with the state. “They place the difficult placements with me in hopes that I can turn them around.”
For himself, Ed finds times when all the kids are at karate, swimming and other activities to work out, usually for an hour and a half each day. “When they’re all tied up, that gives me some time to do what I want to do.”
He acknowledges, though, that not everyone could thrive in his situation — and not just because the kids are a handful.
“When you go into foster care, you have to understand that you’re doing it out of love, you’re doing it to change someone’s life — but when they leave, you have to be able to let go. It hurts a lot. Sometimes you know that it’s really not the right thing for them to go back.”
He still sees many of his past foster kids once a year at his annual barbecue in the park, and for some families, he helps with back-to-school shopping. “My kids know, when they leave, they have my telephone number.“
And of course, there is that one time he didn’t have to let go: Steven will always be Ed’s son. Now, foster parenting is part of a bigger plan: to build Ed’s forever family. He is now registered as a pre-adoptive foster parent in order to be placed with kids who are eligible for adoption.
“I’m getting older, but my goal is to have, maybe, three. But you know, you can’t really make a plan, because I always say God has a plan, not me.”