Two children with nowhere else to go turned Don and Mindy Cochran into foster parents — and within two years, two other children in need would help define their family forever.
Getting into fostering
When Don Cochran was seated next to two former students at a concert in 2005, he had no idea a simple question would change his life and the life of his wife, Mindy.
Don said he knew the students, Rachel and Angel, were in the foster care system.
“They said they were staying in a group home … because there were no foster parents in our county,” Don recalled. “And they looked at me and said, unless you want to become our foster parents. I said, sure, not knowing what’s all involved in the process.”
The couple underwent more than 25 hours of training to officially become foster parents, Don said, which included learning CPR and first aid. The Department of Child Services also did background checks on the couple and went through their home, making sure there was enough living and bedroom space to bring in foster children, among other requirements.
Fortunately for the Cochrans, Rachel and Angel were the first two of 13 children they would end up fostering.
“It wasn’t without its challenges, it was very much a struggle, but it was just wonderful,” Don said.
Over the next two years, the Cochrans would foster children from babies to teenagers. Some, Mindy said, only stayed for the weekend until they could be placed with family members. Some, like 9-month-old Kyleigh, stayed much longer.
In September 2008 Don was at a band contest in Louisville when he got a call requesting that he go to the hospital to sit with an infant “who had blunt force trauma to the head and severe injuries,” he said.
As licensed foster parents, the Cochrans were sometimes asked to sit with children in the hospital who wouldn’t have family present so they wouldn’t be alone.
They ended up taking the baby home as a foster child, continuing to work with the DCS and the child’s parents toward reunification with her birth family.
“You have a job to do, and that’s reunification, and you’ve always got to keep that going in the back of your mind. Your job is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for that child and to work with DCS on whatever case plan they have going at that time,” Don said about his role as a foster parent.
As the years went on, it became more clear that reunification wasn’t going to happen, and the child’s parents eventually voluntarily terminated their parental rights.
“So we decided we were going to get out of foster care and adopt this one, and that was Kyleigh,” Don said, placing his head on his now 10-year-old daughter’s head.
For seven months, Kyleigh remained the Cochrans’ only child.
“They kept calling us to take additional foster kids, but Kyleigh liked the attention she was getting and we were very hesitant to bring in another foster child, so we declined,” Don said.
“Then I got another call that said there was a child that had been found with some severe injuries and they asked if I could go to King’s Daughters’ hospital and sit with the little boy,” Don said. “He had been malnourished, he had the extended belly, he had cuts and bruises all over him. It was a crisis situation, so I went and sat with him.”
Eventually, the little boy, who was 18 months old at the time, came into the Cochrans’ house as well.
His situation provided some new challenges for the young family. The little boy, Uriel, and his biological parents were not legal immigrants, so he was in limbo for some time as the Cochrans worked to adopt him. The family worked to obtain citizenship for their new son, which they were only recently able to finalize.
For both children, the adoption process was not quick. Kyleigh, whom the Cochrans first met at 9 months old, was 2½ when she was adopted. For Uriel, the process lasted until he was 4½.
Despite the lengths they had to go through, the choice to adopt both Kyleigh and Uriel was obvious, the Cochrans said.
“You just fall in love with these kids, and when you realize that they’re not going to go home, that they are going to be adopted, we already felt at place there because it wasn’t a matter of months with us, at this point it was years with us,” Don said.
A heart for fostering
Though they did end up adopting through the foster system, Don said he felt a special calling when they were foster parents.
“I wanted to adopt when we first got into [fostering] because we didn’t have any kids on our own and that changed really quick when I realized what foster care was about,” Don said. “Foster care wasn’t about going into this to adopt kids, it was about providing a safe environment and working with the case plan. … That was what those families were needing to get things back on a healthy and safe track and that’s when my focus changed. Once I found my role, and they tell you that … but you have to feel it, but once I fell into that role I became, it was almost like a calling.”
“And, I think, providing that unconditional love and that nurture and safe home and at the same time we also worked with the birth families … helping them [know] how to care for their children and communicate with their children,” Mindy added.
The Cochrans had their share of difficulties, with one foster child even breaking Mindy’s wrist. Still, they would encourage those interested to open their home to help foster kids in need.
“If they’re interested, I think the only way to do it is to try it. You just have to be patient,” Don said. “The only thing that will change is absolutely everything. And that’s true. Everything will change with every child. Everything you’ve come to know as a family unit will be disrupted. And once you come to accept that, it sure is rewarding.”