Seven Children in Seven Years

Posted on August 25, 2021

Children’s Home Shelter for Family Safety (formerly Children’s Inn) Brave Beginnings Youth Care Provider Gwen Betz, and her husband Eugene, got married at age 22, and like many young newlyweds, they bought a home when they were 23.

But unlike most young newlyweds, Gwen and Eugene also began providing foster care at age 23. And by the time they were 30, they had adopted seven children!

“We started 2015 with three kids and ended 2015 with seven kids,” laughs Gwen.

Several years prior, they had inquired about the possibility of adoption. “We had been visiting with someone from Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (a program operated by CHS Community Based Services),” Gwen says. “In January 2015, we were chosen for Markus, who was 12.”

Snowballing siblings

The couple had three foster children at the time, all of whom were on the adoption track. Jailee was just one year old and had been with them since she was eight months; she had a newborn baby brother, Garett. Gwen and Eugene decided to adopt the two siblings so they could be together. And so, Garett joined the family straight from the hospital, when he was just three days old.

In the meantime, Gwen and Eugene had two additional foster children—siblings who were four and seven. As it turned out, they had two older siblings who were nine and 11. Gwen and Eugene didn’t want them to be split up, so they adopted all four: Santasia, age 11; Matthias, age 10; Brayden, age seven and Kyndra, age four.

By the end of 2015, the couple also bought a new, larger, house.

“It just happened”

The Betz family knew what they were getting into—sort of.

“I have my degree from Augie [Augustana University in Sioux Falls] in Sociology, so I have a pretty good understanding of trauma,” says Gwen. “My husband went to school for Criminal Justice, so he comes at it from the other side. It creates some challenges, but we balance each other out.”

“Adoption was always something I was interested in, from when I was a teenager,” she says. “Both my family and my husband’s family had some adopted members, so it wasn’t a foreign concept, and neither of us had a strong need to have biological kids.”

“Once we started in that direction, it just happened,” Gwen says.

Rising to the challenge

Today, the Betz children range from age 6 to age 18. As if that weren’t enough, the family also has three dogs and two cats.

But not all the children are living at home. The three oldest, who have spent time in residential care, struggle with the legacy of trauma.

“Our oldest had seven placements before us,” says Gwen, “including residential care.” The next oldest was in residential care for mental health issues. Neither one has graduated from high school and both live on their own.

“The third oldest is in residential treatment. The two oldest boys have had issues with law enforcement related to substance abuse,” she says.

“Hopefully they make progress and gains. We did the best we could; we hope stuff sinks in and that they will circle back to that later. And we have stuck with them, have been strong advocates along the way,” Gwen says.

“It’s hard to know what is their character, what is the trauma and what is just teenage behavior,” she says.

Gwen admits that she’s disappointed. “Markus should have graduated,” she says. “I imagined the graduation party he would have. And Santasia had been excited about going to the prom, but then she dropped out, so no prom. I had looked forward to those events myself as a parent.”

The new normal

With the oldest three children out of the house, the family has just four at home. “It’s the new normal. It’s very interesting. Not as chaotic. Life has gotten easier,” Gwen says.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t busy.

“We have contact with all three of the birth mothers of our kids,” says Gwen. “And the kids have contact with their biological siblings—we make sure they see them once every month or six weeks.”

“The bio family relationships are complicated and messy, but good,” she says. “I hope it answers questions or fills a void for them.”

Some of the family’s former foster kids keep in touch, as well. “Our first foster kid is getting a driver’s license,” Gwen says. “She was six when she moved in with us.”

At Children’s Home Shelter for Family Safety, Gwen works with children in emergency shelter. “I started in October 2016, and I still love it!” she says.

“Being able to develop relationships and give kids the feeling that they are valued is important,” she says. “It’s sometimes hard with short-term care, but most kids will still take something with them. Our 11-year-old, who stayed at Children’s Home Shelter for Family Safety for three weeks before she came to our home [when she was four], still remembers it.”

The Children’s Home Shelter for Family Safety community is very supportive, Gwen feels. “And my family life gives me perspective on working with kids at Children’s Inn.”

After all, parenting children at every developmental stage simultaneously makes Gwen a true expert.