Increasing reports of infants being abandoned by their mothers only strengthens the resolve of Beth Drost.
For two years, the Arlington Heights woman and her husband, George, have volunteered as foster parents, specifically for infants in crisis, until their families can get back on their feet.
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They are licensed by the Department of Children and Family Services and volunteer through Safe Families for Children. The national organization works through a network of churches and agencies committed to preventing child abuse and helping at-risk families successfully manage crisis situations.
Over the last two years, the Drosts, both 64, have cared for 12 infants, nearly all under the age of 1, and one baby whom they took home the day after she was born. Their stays have ranged from a few days to a few months.
Only one was a toddler and he came to them in a body cast. Quick-thinking Beth toted him around their home in a wagon. Of all the children they have cared for, she wonders what happened to him the most, she says.
"My friends all think I'm nuts, and to be honest, I don't know what got into me," says Beth, who retired as manager of one of the assisted living units at Lutheran Home & Services in Arlington Heights.
"But the same thought kept coming back to me as I watched my grandchildren, who are so loved and nurtured," she adds. "It just bothered me that there are kids out there who, because of situations out of their control, don't get that."
As she talks, their latest charge, a 5½-month-old, lies on a blanket, cooing and laughing at her toys. Drost and her husband cared for her last summer, and now serve as backups when her primary safe family has an out-of-town obligation.
They love to do it. Their spacious home has baby equipment here and there, with a portable crib in the family room and a changing table in one of the walk-in closets.
The babies go everywhere with them and are welcome at the downtown Arlington Heights restaurants they visit.
"It's fun," Beth says. "How can you not like it?"
George Drost says both he and Beth are following the example set by their own parents. His father was president of the former Uhlich Children's Home, a one-time orphanage which converted in the 1960s to a residential facility for wards of the state.
"That was our introduction to the need for caring for children of at-risk families," says Drost, an Arlington Heights attorney. "Our family has tried to model that. We figured it was time to stop talking about it, and just do it."
Still, becoming licensed as foster parents was grueling. They worked through Shelter Inc., the regional DCFS site and Lydia Home Association, a Chicago agency that works with Safe Families volunteers and birth families.
It took nearly a year of intense training and screening before they obtained their licenses, and they still get regular visits from DCFS officials to keep up their certification.
"What drew us to Safe Families was their goal of working to reunite children with their families," Beth Drost says. "They are voluntarily giving their children to Safe Families for a period of time until they can get back on their feet."
The Drosts have grown accustomed to a familiar question about how hard it is to give up the infants they have cared for.
"It is hard, but if you're afraid of getting hurt or taking any risks, then you'll never be able to reach out and help people," Beth says. "Plus, we're under no illusion that we're adoptive parent material. What is most important to us is the time we have them.
"We just hope that all the love and nurturing we give them will hopefully have a positive effect on them later in life."