MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, February 17th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re really glad you are!
Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Our sister podcast, Effective Compassion, is in the middle of Season Two.
Episode 6 of that second season released yesterday. If you subscribe to the Effective Compassion feed—and I hope you do—you would have that in your queue. If you do not, you’ll receive that current episode this weekend in this feed.
This week, hosts Anna Johansen Brown and Sarah Schweinsberg highlight the challenge of helping children in need.
Today, on this program we introduce you to a couple involved in that work.
REICHARD: When Mike and Siobhan Dickinson became foster parents, they expected their lives to change. But turns out, it changed more than they ever imagined.
WORLD Senior Correspondent Kim Henderson brings us their story.
KIM HENDERSON, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: The sun is setting on Windance Country Club. At a nearby house around the corner, a teenager rolls a garbage can to the curb. Inside, his foster brother is making music.
AUDIO: [TODDLER ON TOY PIANO]
The toddler striking the ivories is the ninth foster child to live in the Dickinson home. Mike Dickinson remembers when his heart first grew soft toward kids in need.
MIKE: I just started waking up and couldn’t get it out of my mind. You know, we’ve got this house, we’ve got bedrooms, a steady environment. I was thinking surely we could help one child…
Siobhan Dickinson had some reservations about fostering, but she and Mike talked it out. Now she’s all in.
SIOBHAN: You can’t let the fear of saying goodbye to a child stop you from fostering. You can overcome that fear more than that child can overcome the scenario that they’re in, in their home…
The Dickinsons’ three children are all in, too.
YOUNGEST DAUGHTER: I love having foster kids…
SON: I get the chance to have a brother.
OLDEST DAUGHTER: You can see how their attitudes change when they, like, open up…
SIOBHAN: This is the room. that It’s had bunk beds at times. It’s had cribs, now has a toddler bed…
Siobhan came up with a plan to help their foster children feel like the bedroom is special. They call it the art wall.
SIOBHAN: We give them each, um, a canvas and paints of all colors and let them have at it, and they can make whatever they want.
Down low, there’s a six-month-old’s finger-painting. Nearby, a fourth-grader’s zebra. And at the center, a teen’s depiction of the human eye.
SIOBHAN: They all sign their names or we write their name and we date it for them . . .
One of the paintings belongs to a preschooler the Dickinsons fostered for two years, two months, and 11 days. Mike and Siobhan formed a relationship with the child’s parents. They took them to church. They helped them secure housing and a car and make changes necessary for reunification.
MIKE: It’s obviously heartbreaking. Sorry. [pauses to recompose] Because we will always love him as our own child, But we consider it an unbelievable blessing to be able to help put that family back together. [pauses to recompose] Sorry, hang on a second.
It’s that heart for helping that had Mike, an attorney, feeling like he should do more—something that would have an even greater effect.
In 2018, he ran for the youth court judge position in his county. Youth courts deal with matters involving abuse and neglect of juveniles, as well as offenses committed by juveniles.
MIKE: Before I was a foster dad, I had absolutely no idea that the abuse and the neglect that was going on in my county was going on right underneath my nose.
Dealing with that abuse and neglect in court is hard.
MIKE: There is an internal conflict, because you hear the things that have happened to these children and you think, “How in the world can a parent do that to a child” and then you, I have to stop myself. And I think, “You know what? I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life . . .
Dickinson says the most emotional hearings are drug court hearings.
MIKE: I take off my robe, I tape up, take off my tie, and I go down and I sit down at the table with these parents, and we just have a conversation. I get involved in their life. I try to find out, you know, what causes them to want to use whatever substance they’re using.
Each family that comes through his court has its own set of challenges.
MIKE: Some, for instance, don’t have any transportation. So, um, attendance at a regular random drug screening, regular court hearings, regular therapy sessions, it’s tough for them . . .
Solutions can be hard to find, but the judge says he has a team that thinks outside the box. When they asked a national organization to audit their court and give suggestions, one was to apply for a grant.
MIKE: We got it. We are going to be able to buy a van and go pick up these parents and transport them…
AUDIO: [HAPPY CHILD]
Because of his role as a local judge, the Dickinsons will have to go out of the county for future foster placements. Right now, though, they’re focused on something else—adopting 2-year-old Jay, who’s been in their care since he was 3 weeks old.
AUDIO: [CHILD SAYING “I LOVE YOU”]
Mike says he’s found new purpose through fostering and his role as a judge.
MIKE: I truly feel that this is the calling on my life . . .
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Gulfport, Mississippi.