Most Cambrians know William Hollingsworth as the town’s fire chief and longtime firefighter. However, people who really know him and his wife, Jandee Hollingsworth, also know their story of love, compassion and commitment for three sibling youngsters they did not bear, but who are now definitely their children.
In August in a solemn and joyous legal ceremony in Santa Barbara, the 40-something Hollingsworths and their two biological teens — daughter Kyla and son Grant, now 16 and 13, respectively — formally adopted one girl and two boys they had fostered for two years: Kaylee, who’s now 6 years old, Desmond, 5, and Adam, 3.
The Hollingsworths went from deeply wanting a larger family to suddenly actually having one.
It’s not a story they tell easily. They are a very private, devout family. But they have an unselfish ulterior motive: The Hollingsworths very much want to encourage others to open their arms and hearts to children who so desperately need love, laughter and stability in their lives.
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As William wrote, “The pride we feel in growing our family this way is very personal.” However, “we realize the importance of a story like this … if more people understood the very real need for foster care and adoption, then maybe many more would be willing.”
They certainly don’t want to “grandstand or self-aggrandize what choices we have made,” he said. “We most definitely are not looking for kudos or recognition. This was simply the right choice for our family.”
Having more children was always the right choice.
“We’d always talked about having a large family,” William recalled last year, but Jandee’s second pregnancy had been a difficult one. They’d discussed fostering previously, “but the time wasn’t right.”
Then, as the couple was on “a rare date without the kids,” William said, “we realized that the timing was right this time, and it (fostering) fit into the plan God had for us.”
Although Jandee’s previous pregnancy was a factor in their decision to adopt, and “the pain and powerlessness of what our family went through were very real,” she said, it was by no means the only or most important reason for becoming foster parents.
The couple said they never saw fostering and adopting children as “just a substitute for pregnancy.”
I worried for a few minutes about what maternal feelings I would have for a child I was just about to meet for the first time. Quickly, however, it became about three things for me: God’s plan, children in need and love.
“The challenging pregnancy simply explains the 10-year age gap in the children,” Jandee said. “Now, it’s great having that gap. It benefits both the older and the younger kids … just another example of God’s perfect plan.”
When the family “began this journey, Kyla and Grant were excited and nervous,” William said. “They were interested and involved throughout.”
Since then, “they have matured a lot emotionally,” he said. “Their hearts know the blessing of a good family. They know the love and care needed to help those who haven’t known the security and reassurance of a loving family.”
So, Kyla and Grant joined their parents in caring for and sharing with the youngsters, and during the formal adoption hearing, the two teens “spoke to the judge about their love for all the siblings.”
The family grew, and then grew again
Qualifying as foster parents can be a long, arduous, emotional process, William said, “with training, safety checks, first-aid training, background checks through the Department of Justice, site evaluations. It took a couple of months.”
Then the process went into warp speed: They were certified to become foster parents, “and less than two hours later, we got the call.”
Even then, in the long run, it wasn’t what they expected.
“The process was simply being willing to say ‘yes’ when we got the call for Kaylee. Less than a month later, we were asked if we wanted to have the boys come and stay with us as well,” Jandee said. “We again said ‘yes,’ knowing that the impact to our family would be significant.”
Adapting and adopting
William said that “picking up a foster child, like marriage or childbirth or so many of life’s big moments, can’t be truly prepared for ahead of time.”
Jandee said, “I worried for a few minutes about what maternal feelings I would have for a child I was just about to meet for the first time. Quickly, however, it became about three things for me: God’s plan, children in need and love. Over the last 2 1/2 years, many emotions have had their turn, but those three things were always there.”
The changes to the Hollingsworth family were instantaneous and profound. But one thing was always constant: The love.
“Like many needy children, these kids came into foster care with nothing but the clothes on their back,” William said. “In the first few weeks, we were so thankful for those who helped with offers of hand-me-down clothes and secondhand strollers.”
The household absorbed “one crib, bunk beds, car seats, diapers, toys and strollers,” he recalled. “We had to purchase a larger vehicle. Our house was a diaper-changing assembly line.”
A bigger change was “all the social worker and specialist visits in our home several times a week,” which put a crimp on the family’s sense of privacy.
“Honestly,” William said, “we put ourselves on hold for a while because none of our perceived needs began to compare” with what the foster children needed.
He added: “Whether they stayed with us for a few months or forever, they needed to experience family, security and affection after being in a dark situation.”
The children’s background
William said the toddler siblings had been “removed and taken into foster care for what was classified as ‘severe neglect.’ They came into protective custody with substantial developmental delays, were severely malnourished, and had little to no medical care before foster care.”
The family won’t publicly discuss anything else about the children’s previous situation.
“The rest of the details, as sad as they are,” William said, “are the children’s to learn when they are ready, and share with whomever they choose. Our job was to advocate for them to have access to needed therapy, preschool, education, and as many typical childhood experiences as possible.”
Jandee said, “We fostered through an agency that helped us navigate all of the ‘what happens next’ questions. Sadly, the answer was frequently ‘we don’t know’ or ‘you will just have to wait and see.’ ”
But the Hollingsworths persevered, adapted, hugged, waited and loved.
Challenges and joys
William said the challenges of taking three little kids into an older, established, stable family included “teaching a child to trust, learning about autism, intellectual, development and occupational delays, trauma-related behavior, PTSD … and the indefinite waiting” to get the children.
He said additional challenges were for those children to learn to accept their new situation and the interminable delay between the decision to adopt and having those adoptions finalized.
There have been so many joys in the process, he said.
“Watching them grow and recover,” he said. “Watching them become confident enough to try new things, seeing individual personalities develop where there was once just survival mode.
“The greatest joy is now being a family: family dinners, afternoon walks, Saturday morning PJs, etc.,” William said. “It may sound somewhat anticlimactic, but our time is now ours, with no surprise visits or social workers in our home three or four times a week” to check on the children’s status and progress.
He said, “We jokingly said our family motto was: ‘Embrace the craziness.’ Now, 2 1/2 years later, we have a routine that works. Although there are crazy family moments, it’s become the new normal, and we can’t imagine it any other way.”
And what a family it is.
Jandee, a proud mom, described the children she and William so adore and cherish: “Kyla is kind and nurturing. She loves art and shopping. Grant is energetic and sensitive. He loves to read, play video games and ride his bike. Kaylee has a fun sense of humor. She loves music and dance. Desmond is very logical and loving. He is always curious. He loves sports and being active. Adam is very social and outgoing. He loves Sunday school, has a joyous, infectious smile, and loves William very much.”
William added: “I like to keep my private life private and jealously want to protect my family’s safety. However, if we are able to encourage others to look into foster care and adoption, then we should definitely pursue that” by sharing their story of love, faith and confidence in the future.