Foster mom on school board wants to show ‘image of a child … instead of statistics’

Lexington family foster care

Fayette County School Board member Stephanie Spires and her John, in their 30s, have adopted three girls and have been foster parents to other children.
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Fayette County School Board member Stephanie Spires and her John, in their 30s, have adopted three girls and have been foster parents to other children.

The family adventures depicted on Stephanie Spires’ Facebook page show that, in addition to being the newest member of the Fayette County school board, she and her husband are the adoptive parents of three girls and have fostered, or provided respite care, for more than 30 children in the past six years.

Spires, 36, recounts her daughters’ daily lives on social media: excursions around town to the library and parks, to downtown restaurants for impromptu lunches, or to the yard for tea parties. The couple’s adopted daughters, who were at first their foster children, are Raylee, 7, Mia, 4, and Lauryn, 3. The girls have a following on social media, she said.

Spires said she and her husband, Lexington attorney John Spires, have tried to share stories and adventures with friends, community leaders and political leaders, “in hopes that when someone mentions foster care, they have an image of a child, or three, instead of statistics.”

She told the Herald-Leader they hope that by sharing their family’s story, they will remove the stigma associated with foster care and encourage others to consider opening their home to foster children.

“We fostered for a few years and never stopped to have biological children.”

Spires was appointed to the school board in February, when Amanda Ferguson resigned.

Spires said one reason she wanted to serve on the school board was that, as a foster parent and through her previous work as director of a children’s shelter, “I have had children at several Fayette County schools and have seen the disparities across the district as well as the challenges that foster children and homeless/marginally housed children encounter.”

In her first few months at school board meetings, she hasn’t been afraid to ask questions. But she hasn’t created controversy.

John Spires, 38, said, “being a foster parent, and having kids come in and out of your house at different stages, takes some getting used to.”

“I think it requires some resilience and flexibility, in terms of taking in kids and assimilating them into your home on short notice. It is also hard when they leave, but if they leave for a good place, then you know it is at least for the best.”

As open as Spires is on social media, she doesn’t talk about the foster children who stay at their home for various lengths of time. She also has been careful not to share her adopted daughters’ individual life stories, leaving that “for them to share, when they are ready, in their words, and in their terms.”

She has posted comments about racism that her daughters, two of whom are biracial and one who is black, have experienced in Lexington. Spires and her husband are white.

One daughter, Spires said, “has even realized how people’s unconscious biases lead to different consequences for her than her peers.”

“I will admit that before I was a mother, I had more of a ‘color blind’ approach to race, and even though I have experienced racism firsthand on multiple occasions since becoming a mother, I will never completely understand the struggles that my daughters encounter daily,” she posted on Facebook recently.

The couple advocate for adoption and foster care reform in Kentucky, often attending legislative meetings in Frankfort.

“Stephanie, with John, embodies an abiding care — personally and professionally — for children who desperately need a helping hand and a loving home,” said state Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington. “Lexington is a kinder place for all people because of them.”

Stephanie Spires has been critical of a few, but not all, of Gov. Matt Bevin’s foster care and adoption positions.

The main focus of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services “should not be removing children from homes,” Spires said. “It should be keeping families together and removing children as a last resort. It would cost our state a lot less money to put prevention services in place than to remove a child and place that child in foster care.”

John Spires said Kentucky should implement procedures to ensure that termination of parental rights proceedings are fair to biological parents but are moved along more swiftly, to give children permanency.

Stephanie Spires said federal law calls for a child to have a permanency plan in place after being in state care for 15 of the previous 22 months, and that plan should be implemented when a child has been in state care for two years.

“Unfortunately, due to worker turnover and heavy caseloads, cases are being delayed and permanency is being pushed back,” she said. “The Cabinet needs to hire more workers, focus on retention and reduce caseloads. The biggest challenge is simply funding. Our state needs to put money towards prevention services, marketing (to recruit foster parents), and social worker salaries if we are going to see true reform.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears