If Steve and Amy Morrison got Father's Day visits from all of the children they've parented over the years, their Whitaker home would be packed this Sunday.
The Morrisons have five children of their own and have served as foster parents to a total of 20 children since 2000, when they became certified as foster parents. Two of their children were adopted out of foster care into their family.
Last month the couple received the Outstanding Foster Parents of the Year Award given by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.
According to a news release, the Morrisons were chosen "for their ability to recognize and meet the needs of the foster children in their care, whether those needs are physical, social or practical."
The release also said the couple have great compassion for the birth parents of the foster children and work toward the reunification of the children with their families.
"I tell the parents, 'I'm not here to judge you. I've not been where you've been. I'll take care of your kids, you work on yourself,'?" Mrs. Morrison said. "Most of the parents have my phone number and they can call if they need anything or just want to talk to their kids."
Though the Morrisons have adopted two of their foster children, Mrs. Morrison said their philosophy about foster parenting is that they are the temporary care givers but that "the children belong with their families."
Currently the Morrisons are foster parents to a 6-month-old girl and a 6-year-old boy.
The family includes Steve and Amy's biological children Stephen Jr., 19, a college student in Florida; Jessica, 17, a recent graduate of West Mifflin Area High School; and Elizabeth, 15, a sophomore at West Mifflin. It also includes former foster children Brittany, 14, a high school freshman, and Isaiah, 2.
"There were a few others we would have kept also, but they weren't available," Mr. Morrison said.
The Morrisons became foster parents nine years ago so they could take in Brittany, who is a member of Mr. Morrison's family, in what is called a "kinship placement."
But even after adopting Brittany, the Morrisons said they continued to provide foster care because of the overwhelming need for the services and because of the fulfillment it brings to them.
And they have lots of help. Mrs. Morrison's parents and sister live on the same street and other aunts and uncles also live nearby. They are frequent visitors to the home and playmates for the children and all have had to get FBI criminal clearances in order to have contact with the foster children, Mrs. Morrison said.
That help comes in handy when the Morrisons take in children with special emotional, physical or medical needs. For instance, Isaiah came as a baby who was born drug-addicted and needed to be held and soothed for hours at a time.
Mrs. Morrison said she believes the extended family setting that the foster children get to experience in her home is a positive influence for them.
"They see a sense of family here and how we all help each other out," Mrs. Morrison said.
The foster children who stay with the Morrisons are included in all family activities and events.
"They go to softball games and band performances. We've traveled to Hershey and Cincinnati for games and they come along and stay in a hotel with us," Mrs. Morrison said, adding that she must get permission to take the foster children out of the county.
The Morrisons' children are also heavily involved in caring for and building relationships with the foster children. And during the past nine years, they've gotten used to frequent bedroom reassignments that result from the placements.
"We play musical bedrooms, but they make it work. My kids, they work with it," Mrs. Morrison said. "If it's going to be a long placement, we let them repaint and redecorate the rooms."
Sometimes those changes come with little notice as is the nature of foster care, and the Morrision children have gotten used to text messages from their parents announcing a new addition to the family.
Mrs. Morrison also runs a home daycare out of her home. That business provides playmates for the foster children as well. On a recent weekday afternoon, their foster 6-year-old boy came home from school at the same time as two young boys who come for afterschool care. The trio played with Legos and trucks.
Between the daycare and the foster parenting, the Morrisons have stockpiled toys and games for every age group.
The Morrisons said that while it's difficult to get attached to children and then let them go to return to their biological parents, the attachment means they have done their jobs properly.
"It's good if they bond with you because then you know they will be able to bond with others. The really sad cases are the ones who don't bond," Mrs. Morrison said.
The Morrisons said they plan to continue to serve as foster parents for the foreseeable future.
"I can't imagine not doing it. But if there was no need, that would be a wonderful thing too," Mrs. Morrison said.
Mary Niederberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-851-1512.