Houma couple finds joy as adoptive, foster parents

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For many married couples, first comes love, then marriage, followed by a baby carriage, or, in the case of one local couple, more than 20 foster and three adopted children.

In honor of the recent National Foster and Adoption Awareness month, the Houma couple, Carla and Paul Porche, recently named the Department of Children and Family Services’ Thibodaux Region’s Foster Parents of the Year, shared their journey from a loving couple who deeply desired to start a family to proud, happy parents of three rambunctious children.

“It had gotten hard on us, buying Christmas presents for everyone else’s children when we wanted to be buying for ours, too,” Carla said. “We wanted to be like everyone else, to have kids.” 

The Porches’ desire was realized nearly 10 years ago, when they adopted their son Gavin through a private adoption agency in Colorado. 

Soon after, the baby bug hit again.

Carla and Paul decided to complete the courses required to become foster parents with the state, a proposal young Gavin welcomed – with one caveat: He still got to the oldest.

Before completing the requirements to become foster parents, the Porches privately adopted newborn Ava – nearly four years after Gavin’s arrival. 

“Later, when I made my Christmas list, I told Paul another baby was at the top of the list,” Carla recalled, smiling. “I just didn’t feel complete.”

Gavin, with his whitish blonde towhead, and blond-haired Ava, with a sprinkling of freckles across both her cheeks, along with Carla and Paul, made the perfect family. And they were perfect hosts for the foster children moving in and out of their lives.

Three years after Ava’s arrival, the Porches would grow by one more. Addison – then 3 months old – joined the Porche family first as a foster child. The half-birth sister to Ava, Addison recently became Carla and Paul’s third adopted child.

Today, the Porches’ home has all the signs of active young children: The dining room table is covered with coloring books and colors, and the playroom is littered with toys. Outside, a swing set awaits the next romp. And Bella, the family dog, watches for Gavin, 9, Ava, 5, and Addison, 2, to come play. 

Mom Carla and pop Paul couldn’t be happier, relishing their roles as parents.

“Ava is silly in her own little way, and Addison is so cute – a little sweetheart who loves her daddy,” Paul gushed. “Gavin is very caring. He once crawled into a culvert to rescue a cat.

“He’s 9, yet he still wants us to tuck him in every night.”

“Gavin loves being the big brother, and he has such a tender heart and soul,” Carla said. “Ava is determined. She does things herself. She taught herself how to tie her shoes on her own. And, we took her training wheels off her bike not long after she started riding it.

“Addison is a little snuggle bunny. She loves to hug and kiss, and she has her cute little sayings. She’s always wiggling around. She watches Ava and Gavin playing the Wii, and she picks up the TV remote and pretends she is playing, too.”

Paul, who is a quality manager for K&B Machine Works in Houma, said the favorite part of his day comes each evening when he returns home. “I get the ‘Daddy’s home!’ treatment. It’s like this big event at the end of the day.”

While Gavin attends Mulberry Elementary School – he’ll enter the fourth grade in the fall –  Carla stays home with the girls. Ava will enter kindergarten in the fall. Afternoons are filled with running to various activities: cheer, religion, baseball and soccer.

“It’s a dream come true – even when they don’t want to clean their rooms or take a bath,” Carla said, chuckling.

Could more Porches arrive soon? “I won’t rule out adopting more just yet because Gavin has started asking about a brother,” mom Carla said, smiling coyly.

In the meantime, the couple will continue providing temporary homes to children in need through the state’s foster program. Since completing training in 2009, the Porches have taken in more than 20 children, most of whom the state removed from their homes because of neglect or abuse.

“Fostering a child is much different than adopting one,” Carla said. “In the long run, these kids should be with their families if that is at all possible. The plan may take awhile to form, but you can be these kids’ alternative plan.”

The foster program’s reward, she said, is providing a safe, loving environment with children.

“During that time, you can make a difference in a child’s life,” Carla said. “You don’t have to be a superhero. We are just ordinary people doing extraordinary things in these kids’ lives. We show them what a normal life can and should be like.”

Foster homes provide respite for children – sometimes overnight, sometimes for months – while another family member is sought or the family problem is resolved.

The Porches still remember the first child they fostered for two years: a 19-month-old girl. “Ava was two months younger; it was like raising twins,” Carla said.

The Porches remain in contact with the girl’s adoptive family, and are looking forward to a visit this week.

“While you have these children, they can change who you are, too,” Carla said. “They leave a footprint on your heart.”

And many things common to most families mean the world to youngsters in the foster-care system.

“We had a little boy who came to us wearing shoes that were five sizes too big,” Carla recalled, saying she purchased new pajamas and undergarments for the child. “He asked, ‘Are these all for me?’ The littlest things sometimes mean the most to these kids.”

A common misconception is that foster children have behavioral problems, a myth Paul strongly disputes. 

“All of them are pretty normal,” he said. “A bad home does not equal a bad kid. I think that’s why most people don’t want to foster children because they think the kids are bad.

“The community needs to realize there are a lot of kids in the state system and there is a great need for foster care in this area. Fostering children is not taboo; it’s actually quite common. I encourage anyone to try it and stick with it.”

How to become a foster parent

At the outset of May, more than 4,000 children were in Louisiana’s foster-care system – 385 in the Thibodaux region alone. More than 600 children – 16 in this area – are available for adoption. Seventy-one children were adopted last year in the region.

In comparison, Louisiana has 2,000 certified foster homes statewide, 200 of which are in the area.

The DCFS’s Thibodaux region is comprised of Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. James, St. John, Ascension and Assumption parishes. Although not all foster children in the Thibodaux region’s jurisdiction are from the region, every child in Louisiana’s DCFS foster/adoption program does hail from the state. The children range in age from birth to 17 years old.

“I got five calls last month from people wanting to become foster parents,” said Tiki Vial, a DCFS child-welfare home development specialist and supervisor in Thibodaux. 

Seven-week training sessions are held every 10 weeks in Thibodaux, Gray and Laplace.

Participants must be at least 21 years old; have adequate space for a child in a safe, nurturing home; and have the needed time and attention to give a foster child. Participants can be single, married, divorced or widowed.

“(The classes) teach people about the agency, how to deal with children who have been abused or neglected and how to be a foster parent,” Vial said. “Some people just don’t know what to expect.

“We need more families to care for children in the system by providing loving, consistent care for these children as they go through this traumatic time in their lives. The greatest need is for homes for older and small children but the overall need is great as well.”

To learn more about adopting or becoming a foster parent, call 1-800-748-7755 or visit www.dcfs.la.gov.

Carla and Paul Porche of Houma stand in their yard with their adopted children – Gavin, standing at top, Addison, seated on stairs, and Ava, standing on stairs. After enduring seven years of fertility issues, the Porches turned to adoption. They’ve also fostered nearly 25 more children.