Helping Hands

Bob and Rita Boyles have taken in 75 foster kids and adopted one. Now they’re getting ready to adopt four more.

Bob and Rita Boyles didn’t have a lot when they were growing up. Bob Boyles, who is corporate director of supply chain management at Charleston (W.V.) Area Medical Center, was born in October 1940 and raised in Wahoo, Neb., between Omaha and Lincoln, in the southeast part of the state. His dad had lost his farm during the Depression, and was still trying to recover when Bob – the middle of three kids – was born.

Rita Boyles came from a family of 15 kids. (She was one of the younger ones.) Her dad was a miner in Beckley, W.V. To help make ends meet, the family had a small farm where they raised vegetables, did some canning, and raised a couple of hogs and cattle.

Perhaps it was because they didn’t have much that the Boyles developed a sensitivity to others in need. To this day, they demonstrate that sensitivity in a number of ways, perhaps most notably by acting as foster parents to children who need a home. In fact, since taking in their first child in December 1989, the Boyles have provided care for 75 foster children. What’s more, they adopted their very first foster child (who is now a senior in high school) and are in the process of adopting four more (ages 5 and under). All of them in addition to their three grown biological children.

Navy career
Boyles left Wahoo in 1959 to enlist in the Navy. What began as a way for him to get a college education ended up a 24-year career. He enlisted with the intention of receiving training and schooling in healthcare. His first assignment was at the Navy Hospital in Portsmouth, Va. Later, he served for three years as a field medical service technician for the Marine Corps (which lacks its own medical arm). Boyles then attended medical administration school and was selected by the Navy to attend college.

He served nine years as an enlisted man, then applied for a commission in the Medical Service Corps, which he received in 1969. He received his undergraduate degree in healthcare administration from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and received two master’s degrees (one in health facilities management, another in personnel administration) from Webster College in St. Louis, Mo. For the remainder of his time with the Navy, he served as an officer in the Medical Service Corps, doing a couple of tours at the Pentagon; serving as academic director of the “A school” (the Navy’s name for technical training), where he taught hospital and paramedic skills; and working at various Navy hospitals. At one point during his Navy career, he was a rating assignment officer, which meant that he and his staff oversaw personnel assignments to Navy healthcare facilities around the world.

“I never did really want to be a hospital administrator,” he says. “I’ve always liked the operational side.”

After 24 years in the Navy, Boyles retired to enter civilian life. He got a logistics job at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tenn., and soon after, was promoted to vice president of professional services. In that capacity, virtually all the allied-science departments – including radiology, nuclear medicine, physical therapy, pharmacy, etc. – reported to him. (Later, when he took up supply chain management, he couldn’t help but notice the similarities between personnel management and materials management. “I didn’t find it a whole lot different,” he says of materials management. “It’s all about dealing with people. I just kept doing what I was doing.”) He joined Charleston Area Medical Center 14 years ago.

No excuses
Just two years after joining the Navy in 1959, Bob and Rita got married. Together, they had three children. The oldest is a registered nurse; the second works on computers, and the third is career Air Force. The couple took in their first foster child in December 1989, just four months after their youngest had gone off to college.

“Rita had wanted to [be a foster parent] while I was still in the Navy,” says Boyles. “But my feeling was, ‘We move too much; it wouldn’t be fair to the kids.’” After he retired from the Navy, however, he couldn’t use that excuse any longer.

One day, as the couple was shopping at a Sam’s Club in Memphis, Rita spotted a woman pushing three babies in a shopping cart. Noting that the three kids were close in age, but apparently not triplets, she surmised the mom was a foster mom, and proceeded to talk to her. “I did all the shopping, and when I came back, Rita was still bending her ear,” recalls Boyles. “We got back to the car; Rita gave me some phone numbers. I took out the Motorola bag phone and got us enrolled in foster parent training.”

The couple attended a 10-week “Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting” class, during which they became more and more eager to take in their first child. “They teach you how to deal with the grieving process, when a child leaves you; how to gain resources for the children; and how to discipline,” he says. (No physical discipline; instead, it’s time-outs and restrictions on privileges.) “We got adequate training and jumped in with both feet.” They brought home their first foster child – a little girl – on Dec. 22, 1989. One month later, two little boys (brothers) joined them. Not only did the Boyles adopt the first child, but friends of theirs adopted the two boys.

“We were ready for something,” says Boyles. “Life has been good to Rita and me, and we wanted to share some of what we had. We don’t need a whole lot, but there are a lot of children who are neglected and abused. We want to extend our help to them.”

The goal of foster care
Since 1989, roughly 70 more children have followed those three into the Boyles’ house. “We’ve had them for as short as 60 days and as long as three and a half or four years,” says Boyles. The length of time is determined by the child’s case worker and the court, based on the ability of the birth parents to take care of the child. In some cases, the parents lose custody because of abuse or neglect; in other cases, they lose custody simply because they don’t have the wherewithal to support their children. “The goal is that the children be reunited with their parents,” says Boyles. Virtually all kids in foster care remain fiercely supportive of their parents, he adds.

In most cases, parents are allowed supervised visits with their children who are in foster care. Most often, those visits are supervised by the child’s case worker at the Department of Human Services or foster care agency.

A new commitment
Bob and Rita Boyles get a lot of Christmas and birthday cards from their foster kids, but almost all are from children who have been adopted – that is, those who have not been reunited with their parents. “We back out of the lives of the ones who have returned to their parents,” he says. “The parents have gone through a period of their life during which they needed help, and we remind them of those rough periods.”

At age 66, Boyles says his days of being a foster parent are numbered. That said, he and Rita are on the verge of adopting four more children. The oldest of the siblings is 5, followed by twin 3-year-olds and a 6-month-old. Adoption proceedings for the oldest three were expected to be completed by August; proceedings for the youngest one could take longer, given the young age.

“[Raising little kids] is physically demanding,” admits Boyles. “But Rita is a saint when it comes to that. Those kids stir at night, she hears them. She’s the one who gets the least amount of sleep.” To accommodate their new, larger family, the Boyles intend to trade in their truck for something bigger – maybe a Chevy Suburban. (This in addition to the minivan they already own.) “When we retire, we plan on traveling with them,” he says.

Although the Boyles may stop taking in more foster kids, they haven’t ruled out the possibility of providing respite care for kids whose foster parents need a break for a week or two.

The system works
“The foster system works,” says Boyles. It’s true that some reunification efforts simply don’t work, making life that much harder for the child. And, in Boyles’s opinion, kids sometimes remain in foster care longer than necessary, as the courts give the parents multiple opportunities to get their act together. “Giving [the parents] a second chance is OK, but [giving them] a third, fourth or fifth shouldn’t happen. These kids aren’t getting any younger.”

But there are a lot of success stories too, he adds. “A lot of children have been returned to their homes and are functioning well,” he says. One story of particular interest to Boyles is that of three sisters who lived with Rita and him for three and a half years. “Our son and his wife in Memphis had given us three grandsons, but when they met the girls, they fell in love with them,” says Boyles. The couple adopted the girls, “and we gained three granddaughters,” he says.

Many people shy away from becoming foster parents because they feel it would be too difficult to let go of the children when they reunite with their parents. “But our reply is, ‘Our job is to instill values in them,’” says Boyles. “Once you do that, we’re firm believers that that child has the foundation to build on those values. Hopefully, sometime during their life, those values will play a role in helping them turn into productive and happy people.”

From the greeting cards that roll in during the holidays, it seems that the Boyles have been successful in passing on some of those values.