A special Mother's Day

by Donna Lampkin Stephens
Mike Kemp photos

This year, Deborah Cuevas of Conway will celebrate a real Mother’s Day, perhaps for the first time ever.

Cuevas, 25, and her husband, Marvin, 22, have been foster parents to 11 children since March 2013. Technically, last year marked her first Mother’s Day as a foster mom, but one of their foster daughters was reunited with her family that weekend, and they were about to gain a toddler boy.

“He really missed his family, and it was an emotional day for our family because of the loss he felt,” Cuevas said.

Fast-forward to today. The little boy, now 3, is still with them, and they added a 10-year-old boy about six months ago.

“While I’m not their biological mom, I’m their mother figure for now,” Cuevas said. “It’s going to be my first experience of Mother’s Day with kids we have a strong attachment and bond with.”

That bond goes both ways.

• • • • •

Cuevas grew up in Maryland and was in and out of that state’s foster system most of her life before going in permanently when she was 14. She aged out at 21 and came to Arkansas to study at Central Baptist College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social services in 2011.

At CBC she met Marvin, who grew up in Wiggins, Miss., near the Gulf Coast. He was adopted at 13. They were married in June 2011. He will graduate in May and attend medical school at Liberty University in Virginia this fall. Deborah is administrative director at the non-profit City of Hope Outreach. They attend Mosaic Church in Conway.

“At this point, our desire is not to have biological children,” she said. “We have a heart for adoption, but we went into this only as foster parents.”

Marvin Cuevas, who said he hoped to pursue general surgery in medical school, said he had originally thought family life would come much later.

“But we have no regrets — absolutely,” he said. “This is something we want and are passionate about. We are prepared to make the sacrifices it takes if this is something God opens the doors for. All kids deserve a great home, but it’s the older kids who have a harder time getting one, and we try to advocate for those kids.”

They got started by filling out an online form through the Arkansas Department of Human Services. While they were waiting for information, the Cuevases found out about The CALL (Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime). According to its Facebook page, The CALL is a Christian non-profit that works closely with DHS’s Division of Children and Family Services to recruit, train and equip churches to support foster and adoptive families for the thousands of Arkansas children in foster care.

“The CALL had meetings in Conway, so we got involved there,” Cuevas said.

Because they hadn’t been parents, they started off taking one child at a time. Since March 2013, they’ve had three girls and eight boys, ranging in age from four months to 10 years, in their home. They’ve had up to three children at a time.

“But we’ve decided two is the best number for us,” Cuevas said. “That’s the plan now, but we’ll see what next week holds. We went into this asking for school-age children only, to foster older kids because that’s where the need is. But you can’t say no.”

Most of their foster kids have come from Conway and Faulkner counties. There’s an on-call social worker who, if a child is found to be endangered and taken into custody, will find out which foster families have an opening and start making phone calls, which have come to the Cuevases at all hours.

“Typically they’ll bring them to our house after they take them to the doctor and make sure they’re healthy,” Cuevas said.

The children’s time with Deborah and Marvin has ranged from overnight to almost a year with the typical being three-to-five months. During their stay, their biological families have weekly visits with the children at a local DHS office.

“Most all of them have either gone home or to a relative,” Deborah said. “The goal is always to keep siblings together. It’s definitely hard when they leave because you get attached, but we try to keep things in perspective. We didn’t go into this to adopt.

“Our plan is to help families. It’s hard; we cry when they leave; we miss them; it’s a loss, but what we do allows the family to be back together.”

She puts her loss in perspective: What she feels after a few months can’t compare, she said, to the feelings of a biological mother whose child has been placed in foster care for an uncertain length of time.

She has kept in touch with several children after they’ve left.

“I always give my phone number to the parents or other relatives, and some have called or texted me after the fact,” she said.

Because of their backgrounds, Deborah said she and Marvin perhaps had a bit of an advantage over the average person of what to expect from the foster experience.

“They’ve asked us what struggles we’ve had, but really, the hardest thing is saying goodbye,” she s
aid. “In our opinion, we haven’t had any troubles outside of normal behavioral issues all kids have — nothing like what most people imagine.

“I think the biggest fear potential foster parents have is that these kids are broken or damaged, but it’s been pretty smooth sailing. I’m by no means perfect, but I kind of understand where they’re coming from and the loss they feel.”

And even though they didn’t start this journey intending to adopt, those plans may have changed.

“We have a desire to adopt both the boys we have now if they become available,” Deborah said in early April. “We’ve had our youngest for 11 months — a third of his life. We’ve had our 10-year-old for five months. We know he’ll be with us for a while.”

Either way, she said, they will continue to foster.

“My husband is going to med school, so we’ll see where that leads us, but we feel foster care is part of our journey and what God has called us to do,” Deborah said. “We hadn’t planned to have a big family, but maybe God has another plan.

“We had lots and lots of plans two years ago that have been turned upside down, but all for the better. We may have zero children — who knows? We hope to adopt these boys, but we also know reunification is always the goal.”

Marvin said he hoped their story would encourage others to become foster parents.

“A lot of people say they want to foster later in life, and I understand that, but the kids aren’t waiting,” he said. “They’re coming into the system now, and they need people in their lives now making a positive impact on their future.”

• • • • •

So Mother’s Day will be big this time in the Cuevas home. They’ll be celebrating Deborah, described by her husband as “a great mom.”

“She’s incredible with the kids,” Marvin said. “You’d never know that she’d never been a mom before. She really loves the kids and pours her heart and soul into each one. She’s pushing for them to have a stable home with consistency and all the things they need, even sacrificing other opportunities to be able to be home and to be a mom.”

It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. For more information about becoming a foster parent, visit thecallinarkansas.org.