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The Munsch Family
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Sheena Munsch of Colorado Springs, Colorado, was young, 15, when she got her first good look at the misery some children endure. She was visiting her older sister in Nebraska, who worked as a social worker for the State, and tagged along on her sister's home visitation rounds.
One house they visited stands out in her memory.
“I remember the sun was shining, it was really bright out, but it was a whole lot different when I walked into their home,” she said.
Inside she witnessed squalor like she had never seen before, children covered in lice and illicit drugs out in the open spread here and there. Insects had control of the air and ground, and a musky, rotten smell filled her nostrils.
“It was just amazing,” she said.
Her Journey to Adopt and Foster
At 18, while an underclassman at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she worked for three years as a police social worker and moonlighted for the FBI, assisting with drug busts.
At 21 she became a licensed as a foster parent. She was open to fostering almost any child in need, but was drawn to older children and the ones who were believed to have the highest need. But after fostering she tired of growing attached to children only to watch them leave.
“It kind of got hard to have kids coming and going all the time,” she said. “I thought it would be nice for a kid to come and stay.”
At 23, with a career, a house she owned, and a clear idea of the need, her first adoptive child was placed with her. It was a girl, Kaylee, now 11, who was 8 years old at the time.
Munsch was young, but because she understood what was involved, had achieved financial stability, and was confident in her own emotional maturity, her age did not present an obstacle, she said. There were concerns about her age from caseworkers, but those were assuaged with a look at her home study. Once she got the OK, Munsch was able to begin her family when many of her peers were just beginning to grasp the reins of adulthood.
Last month, Munsch adopted again - a sibling group of boys, Breylin, 3, and Carter, 1 who had been listed on AdoptUSKids.
Now 26, single, with three adopted children and one foster child living in her house – Munsch still considers herself young.
A Strong Foundation to Build On
In addition to being a single mother, Munsch is currently in the process of finishing her second master's degree, in criminal justice, from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She is also working as a medical clinical assistant for Aspen Point, a community mental health agency.
Munsch credits her family for her maturity and emotional stability. With loving, attentive parents and older siblings, she grew up without the trauma that afflicts so many in the child welfare system. She sees her upbringing as an asset for her children.
“It helped me be able to be a strong person for them,” she said. “I don't have anything of my own to deal with.”
Many of the children who have been placed in Munsch's home have Reactive Attachment Disorder, a condition brought on by neglect and abuse and believed to inhibit the formation of positive relationships. Some of the children have been aggressive, have abused her animals, and have lashed out at Munsch verbally. She has had children run away, and once had her car windshield smashed.
Munsch's strategy is to be patient, maintain a structured household, which includes line-of-sight supervision, rules about interacting with the animals, alarms on all doors, and has found the children to be responsive to the consistency.
“They are at the end of their rope,” she said of the children. “If they aren't going stay in my home, most likely they will be in a residential facility.”
Although the time and energy commitment is demanding, she said she does it because of that: the bigger the investment, the bigger the payoff.
“They can be really rewarding,” she said, but added, “They will put you through the ringer, to say the least.”
In addition to rules for the house, Musch follows rules for herself. The children are not allowed in her room. She takes bubble baths. She gets a massage every month. She has the day off from work on Monday, and the kids go to day care, giving her a day to herself each week.
“I've found out what works,” she said.
Advice for Young People Interested
in Adopting and Fostering
She has some advice for other young people interested in becoming foster and adoptive parents.
- It is vital to set clear boundaries on the age, gender, and needs of the children you can bring into your home. It's more than just having you, the parent, be comfortable. It’s also about ensuring the children are not being set up for another period of instability if a removal becomes necessary.
- In addition to being financially stable – kids “are not cheap” – it is important to conduct some serious soul searching about one's own issues and being confident of one's emotional maturity, which includes identifying emotional triggers.
“If you have a trigger, they are going to find it,” she said. “They will.”
- It's important to talk about one's hopes and ideas with family and friends, people who know you well, and be prepared to hear what they think.
- It is an awesome commitment, and for young people especially, it is vital that they have spent enough time on themselves, on their career and education goals, as well as plans for travel.
“That can be kind of difficult, (children) means time away from things like dogs and friends,” she said.
A Home for All
Munsch’s dedication to children who have special needs runs over into animals. Currently, she has three rescue dogs, three rescue cats, two fish, and two turtles, some of which are afflicted by various maladies, including cancer, deafness, and diabetes.
Her coworkers have been known to tease her for her soft heart.
“They tell me I take anything that is broken,” she said with a laugh.
Although she enforces strict rules concerning the animals – children must ask permission before they can touch any of the pets – she said the pets can be therapeutic. In addition, they have also been good role models for the children when it comes to taking medications.
“When they see the animals taking their meds they are usually OK with it,” she said.
Although Munsch hasn't given much serious thought to adopting again, she isn't closed to the idea.
“I'm still young,” she said.
Inspired by this story?
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