Woman Raised in Foster Care Opens Heart and Home to 6 Boys

This Milwaukee woman adopted two sets of siblings to keep them together.

Jan 26, 2020

All children deserve to grow up in a home knowing that they are loved and wanted. And that's exactly what Jessica Benzakein did on January 3, 2020 when she adopted two sets of siblings who had been in foster care. She wanted to make sure they always stayed together.

Benzakein, 46, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin knows what it means to be in foster care first-hand. She was only 12 when her mother terminated her parental rights and put her into the system.

“My caseworker, his name was Ron, sat me and down and said, ‘Your mother has terminated her parental rights. What’s your plan B?’” Benzakein, now 46, told TODAY Parents.

She said that she answered him with a blank stare because she had no idea what he was talking about. She didn't have a plan B, in fact, she didn't have a plan A.

“He said, ‘If adoption is your plan A, you are too old,’” Benzakein said. “And he wasn’t saying it to be mean. I got it. His point was, if your plan A is to be adopted, you don’t fit what people are looking for. By 12, they figure you are deeply damaged and horribly troubled and there’s no reversing it. Between the ages of two and five your chances of adoption drop substantially.”

Benzakein remained in foster care until her eighteenth birthday when she left for college and she had no where to go during school holidays. It was especially difficult to stay on campus by herself over Christmas. One year she even rented a room for herself off campus.

That's why decided to become a foster parent herself. She wanted to help older children, especially siblings because she and her brother were separated in foster care. She hadn't originally thought about adopting some of her charges.

There are nearly 7,000 children in foster care in Wisconsin according to AdoptUSKids and 1,380 of these waiting to be adopted. Keeping siblings together is difficult and older children are not adopted as quickly.

Now Benzakein who shares custody of her two biological children Eli, 14, and Brenna, 9, with her ex-husband, addedsix more children officially to her family.

Today Parents wrote that Will who is 18, Carter, 14, Sidney, 13, and Markell  known as Buddy, 8, are siblings as are Kendrich, 6, and Terrell  known as T.J., 4. The children had been fostered in her home since 2015. The boys were originally staying for just a weekend but now they are staying permanently.

The children are grateful that they now have a mom and a real home of their own but Benzakein said that she is even more grateful to have them.

“Everybody tells me how lucky these kids are and what a good thing I did,” Benzakein told TODAY Parents. “But ... I’m going to cry ... they grounded me. I went through my 20s thinking I didn’t really need a family. But I did. They give me purpose.”

Benzakein now lives in the type of home filled with love and laughter that she could only dream about as a child as she moved from one foster home to another. According to Today Parents, there is a basketball hoop in the living room, dance parties, and every Friday is pizza and a movie night.

But she stresses that nothing really changed when Judge Mark Sanders signed the adoption papers. “We’ve been living like a family for a long time,” Benzakein said. “But now, no one can tell us we’re not.”

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.