Couple 'starrs' at blending kinship, foster family
Tim and Renae Starr raised one family and were enjoying becoming grandparents when, a few years ago, they became kinship foster parents for two of their granddaughters.
A daughter’s addiction led them to adopt her children in 2016, and those girls now call the Starrs Mom and Dad.
Fast forward two years and the Starrs’ Mt. Pleasant Township home is filled with another three children they have adopted and a foster child they plan to adopt in 2019.
At an age when many people are finding their nests emptying — 50 and 56, respectively — the Starrs’ brood has expanded. They now are raising six children, ages 4 to 9.
Married for five years but together for more than 20, the two have a blended family of six adult children.
“We were ‘The Brady Bunch,’ ” Tim Starr said.
They also are grandparents of 14.
And after two grandchildren were placed in protective custody, they became kinship foster and, eventually, adoptive parents.
“We tease our oldest kids — now your niece is your sister,” Renae Starr said.
Their dedication to their family and other children in need of a family led to the couple’s recent recognition as Foster Family of the Year by the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association .
Michael Caggeso, foster care social worker with the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau, worked with the Starrs from day one and nominated them for the award.
“They didn’t come to us asking to be foster parents. We asked them, when their granddaughters came into the foster care system, four years ago,” he said.
Most kinship foster parents find their hands full at that point, Caggeso said.
“I think they just felt their calling,” he said.
“They are kind, compassionate, so energetic, just remarkably flexible to the needs of each child in their care,” he said.
They worked toward reunification, but prepared themselves to adopt if reunification failed.
“To me, that has to be one of the most difficult aspects of foster care,” Caggeso said.
Hectic, happy household
Tim Starr works nights and weekends for Union Railroad, while his wife is home full time.
Four of the six children, they say, have special needs.
The younger Starrs are Zander and Rylee, both 4; Paige, 5; Lexie, 8; Aubrey, 9; and a 4-year-old girl who will add Starr to her name next year.
They have raised two of their granddaughters since they were toddlers.
“We adopted them and then we talked about fostering,” Tim Starr said.
A typical week day can be “crazy,” Renae Starr said, laughing.
The children attend different schools, some on different days.
They sometimes head to their camp in Crawford County on weekends.
Playing outdoors, fishing, spending time together and “off the screens,” Tim Starr said, are priorities.
Last year was the first Christmas they all spent under one roof.
“It was so much fun to see their eyes sparkle,” Renae Starr said.
Becoming a family
She said she was stunned when she received a call telling her the family was receiving state recognition.
They all traveled to Hershey in October for a ceremony.
“He had to talk, I was crying so much,” Starr said of her husband.
“It made me and her very proud,” Tim Starr said.
A great need
There is a tremendous need, Caggeso said, for kinship and foster care parents, particularly for children ages 9 or 10 and up.
“I think people are more qualified to do it than they maybe believe they are. It’s hard, but I think people rise up to those challenges. If they enjoy helping children and want to make a difference in their lives … I think most people already have what it takes,” he said.
It can be a big “ask,” Caggeso said.
On one hand, foster parents are asked to meet a child’s needs but prepare to send him back to his biological family.
“At the same time, (we ask) could you do this forever?” he said.
The Starrs’ decision to go beyond kinship adoption and take in more children is rare, said Michelle Brant, casework supervisor with the foster care and kinship unit.
“I think this is the first year we made a nomination from the (county) Children’s Bureau,” she said.
“I guess they just put others before themselves. … When you go there, you will feel the love. … They are shining ‘stars’ for sure,” she said.
Inside the family home one recent evening, a daughter grew restless as her parents talked with a visitor.
“How much do I love you?” Tim Starr asked the girl patiently.
“Whole bunches,” she said.
“And?” Renae Starr prompted.
“To the moon and back,” the girl said, smiling.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, email@example.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.