A life dedicated to foster parenting is no easy calling. But while a couple married for 43 years know the challenges, they also know the rewards — to the point where they have adopted 13 children.
George B. Graham, 62, and Ruth J. Graham, 61, of Enumclaw, Washington, have been foster and adoptive parents for 36 years. They have fostered 70 children, specializing in helping those traumatized by sexual abuse.
In 2015, Ruth, a licensed mental health counselor, started Hope Counseling Centers to help people overcome trauma. George is lead carpenter at UW Valley Medical Center.
As a child, Ruth experienced multiple forms of trauma herself. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, her parents separated when she was 6 years old. She was sexually abused, and struggled with feeling accepted.
Though she grew up attending church, Ruth didn’t overcome her trauma and follow the Lord consistently until after she married George. George became a Christian in 4th grade but wandered away in high school. After he met Ruth in their senior year of high school, he rededicated his life to God. George and Ruth married in 1978 at the end of their senior year, just nine months after they met. Ruth subsequently sought counseling for trauma.
George and Ruth struggled to have children, and they began to consider foster care. Upon being licensed, the couple received a placement and expected to adopt, but that child only stayed with them temporarily. The child’s departure devastated Ruth, but she sensed God telling her, Take in the next child.
At that moment, Ruth says she realized the Lord had called her to help children in foster care. The first opportunity came in 1985, with kids staying anywhere from two days to two years. The Grahams brought children into their home straight from the hospital after being born to those in their teens. Three had reached age 21 when they asked George and Ruth to adopt them.
“It became the purpose of who God wanted me to be,” says Ruth. “I knew that I was doing for Him what He asked us to do. That kept us going even in the hardest times.”
Many of the kids in their care had been exposed to drugs and alcohol before birth, and many had been abused. In 2005, they helped a toddler named Megan heal from shaken baby syndrome. The malnourished girl had three broken vertebrae, six cracked ribs, and was blind from brain hemorrhaging.
They took Megan to Solid Rock Community Church, which has since merged with New Life Church in Covington. The pastor, Dave L. McBroom, prayed over Megan for physical and emotional healing, and that she would eat again.
The next day, Megan ate for the first time since coming to the Graham home. She began to heal and open up to Ruth and George, who later finalized her adoption. Megan is now a healthy 18-year-old who wants to become a youth pastor. McBroom, 67, supported their fostering mission and walked with them through difficult times, providing godly counsel to their kids.
Some of the behavioral issues of the boys had almost led them to incarceration. One child assaulted Ruth, fracturing her cheekbone. With some of the girls in her care, Ruth cried out to God, asking Him why she found the children so hard to love.
Despite these challenges, Ruth and George never returned a child to a social services agency for being too difficult. They took them to counseling and church, and helped them heal from trauma.
“It was amazing to watch them refuse to give up,” McBroom says. “I watched their commitment, tenacity, and motivation to do this; and at the same time I watched their faith and belief in God grow stronger.”
For kids who had been sexually abused, they established boundaries, such as not touching them without permission and having no one else in the room when changing clothes. Ruth and George demonstrated a healthy couple relationship through words and actions.
In counseling, Ruth uses cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people change thought distortions and restore self-worth. She develops trust and helps people comprehend that trauma is something that happened to them, not who they are.
Ruth says her favorite part about fostering is when she sees “the light come back into their eyes.” That moment is when a scared child finds his or her voice, or when an angry child begins to soften and asks for a hug.
All the children in their care who have been old enough to decide to follow Christ, have done so. They never called an agency to say they needed to pick up an unruly child.
“God showed me a long time ago that children aren’t disposable,” George says. “We’re all His children.”
Before starting Hope Counseling Centers, Ruth worked as a certification specialist at Olive Crest, which has a unique partnership with the AG’s Northwest Ministry Network. When they began winding down their fostering journey, Ruth wanted to further help people with trauma. She started attending Northwest University at age 48, receiving her bachelor’s in psychology, plus her master’s in counseling and psychology in 2014. George and Ruth currently foster one 16-year-old.
Hope Counseling Centers specializes in treating foster kids with trauma and foster parents with secondary trauma. Ruth serves around 50 clients. She partners with churches to assure families who can’t afford counseling receive it. Ruth discounts her fee, with churches paying the rest.
The couple attend Mt. Rainier Christian Center, an AG church in Enumclaw, where one of their daughters, Janae Graham, works as early childhood director. Another daughter, Emily Roth, is a speaker for the AG Northwest Ministry Network, is helping plant a church, and produces video for Brave Communications.