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Foster parenting is ‘such a pro-life ministry’

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SAN DIEGO —  Max and Jaclyn Hulburt, both 31 years old, have been happily married for seven years.

Since late 2016, they’ve had eight children and one grandchild.

None of these have been their biological children. But, for foster parents like the Hulburts, that doesn’t make a difference.

And, even though the couple has adopted three of their foster children — in 2017, 2019, and in September of this year — that doesn’t mean that the others have a lesser claim to their love.

“Every kid that’s been in our house, they have been our children, 100 percent, none more than the rest,” Max Hulburt said.

The Hulburts, who are members of St. Thomas More Parish in Oceanside, struggled with infertility before turning toward adoption.

Max Hulburt explained that, once it’s determined that a foster child will be placed for adoption rather than being reunited with a biological parent or relative, the child’s foster parents are given the first choice to adopt.

In December 2016, the Hulburts became licensed foster parents after six months of training. They were licensed on a Friday and, the following Monday, welcomed their first foster child.

Their shortest placement, the first one, lasted only one month; the longest was almost a year. Their foster children have ranged in age from a two-week-old to a pregnant 17-year-old, who gave birth to the Hulburts’ “foster grandchild” while living with them.

One source of disappointment for the Hulburts, who are lifelong Catholics, is that the Catholic Church isn’t more involved in foster care.

Jaclyn, whose younger sister was adopted through the foster care system, can’t recall the subject coming up in her three decades as a church-going Catholic or her 12 years of Catholic education.

Max, whose father is a deacon at St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach, said that, despite being plugged into the local network of foster families, he doesn’t know any other Catholic foster parents. For him, that’s a shame because foster parenting aligns so well with the Church’s pro-life convictions.

“It’s such a pro-life ministry,” he said.

He noted that the children involved “just need consistency and they could thrive.” At the same time, their biological parents “are often parenting based on the way that they were parented … and, with a little bit of help, with a little bit of time and, of course, a lot of effort on their end, things could turn around. And we have seen that.”

Admittedly, foster parenting isn’t for everyone.

Jaclyn Hulburt said there is “so much paperwork,” and one can anticipate between one and 10 appointments every week per foster child.

“It’s a juggling act,” she said.

But even though not everyone can be a foster parent, she said there are “plenty of ways” for the Church to help. And the holiday season, which can be “overwhelming” for anyone but particularly “complicated” for foster and adoptive families, is “a beautiful time” to reach out and support them.

The Hulburts themselves have been the beneficiaries of such outreach.

Last May, they participated in a panel discussion about foster parenting hosted by the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality. Their story touched the hearts of some of the attendees, who banded together as a “care community” made up of families from North County parishes. Its  members have provided the Hulburts with dinner once a week and have helped in other ways, including watching the children while Jaclyn cooks dinner, decorating Halloween cookies with them, and surprising the kids with occasional gifts.

Janelle Peregoy, associate director of the Office for Family Life and Spirituality, is a member of the care community.

She said, “None of it is rocket science … but it’s a very strong way of just letting the foster family know that, we support you, we support this pro-life activity, and we, as a community of faith, want to make sure that you thrive in that.”

The “unfortunate reality” is that about half of all foster parents will give up the ministry in their first year, she said, “so, anything that the larger Church community can do to support a fostering family is critical.”

The adoption of their three children — two daughters, who are now 4 and 2 years old, and a now 3-year-old son — has made the Hulburts a multi-ethnic family. Max is white, Jaclyn is white and Hispanic, and all three of their children are Black. (Their youngest daughter is also of Cuban heritage.)

The Hulburts celebrate their children’s cultural backgrounds in several ways. Because one child’s family is from the South, Jaclyn does a lot of Southern-style Black cooking. The family also annually celebrates Juneteenth, a holiday observed on June 19 that commemorates the emancipation of slaves in the United States. They are also intentional about having books and art in their home that feature Black faces.

According to Promises2Kids, a San Diego-based nonprofit that responds to the needs of foster children, there are about 2,858 children in foster care in San Diego County alone.

Max Hulburt said he and his wife receive emails almost daily about children needing placement with a foster family.

However, after “a crazy year” that included the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the adoption of a third child, he said the couple is taking a break from foster parenting to focus on their three adopted children.

But, whether or not they welcome any more foster children into their home, Jaclyn is confident that they will “always be involved somehow” with the foster care system, maybe even as members of a care community providing support to another foster family.

“Once you’re aware and you’re in this world (of foster families), it’s very hard to turn a blind eye to it.”

For more information on foster parenting and adoption, the Office for Family Life and Spirituality offers a list of resources online.

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