Dale & Frances Matthews provide home, long-term care to 10 special needs children
By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
RUTHERFORD — Dale Matthews admits that he was “drug kicking and screaming” into his current situation, which is being a father to 11 special needs children, including 10 who are still in their home.
With a smile, he blames Frances, his wife, who sheepishly agrees that she was the instigator. She has always been drawn to children and wanted a big family, she explained.
Frances operated a day care and they fostered over 100 children before they adopted their first special needs child in 1991. Many of the children they had fostered were challenges because they were teenagers so in that way they had some preparation, explained Frances. At that time, Dale was still in the U.S. Air Force. He retired after 21 years. They also have two other children who aren’t special needs.
“We prayed about it,” recalled Frances. “We didn’t know how adoption worked for special needs kids. … We weren’t rich for sure. … After Elizabeth (who was adopted when she was four months old and is now 24), it just took off,” she recalled.
Dale added, “But I wouldn’t go back and trade it because … this is the way it should be. … And having kids in the house keeps me young, in my mind anyway.”
According to the kids
The whole family was gathered and Frances was telling how she and Dale began learning about babies who needed homes when she paused.
Leah, 20, who has spina bifida and scoliosis, added that the families didn’t want their babies.
Older sister Elizabeth, 24, piped up. The babies didn’t have families who could take care of them, she said. Elizabeth has spina bifida.
Frances agreed. No one else spoke on that subject, since Mom had spoken, it seemed.
Of course, when encouraged, several of the Matthews’ children commented on their family.
McKenna, 14, the youngest, who was born premature but has no physical ramifications, said, “There’s never a dull moment here. … Like at dinner we always laugh at each other’s jokes. … We’re a Christian family.”
“We always end up having good times,” said Elizabeth.
Leah joined in, noting that she is the one who is teased by “everybody in this house, but I can give it back.”
Finally, Joshua, 21, sitting quietly came up in conversation. Frances asked him, “Joshua, what does a cow say?” Joshua, who has Down’s Syndrome, schizophrenia, and autism, said “Holy Cow.” Everyone laughed. “He always says that,” said Olivia, 17. “Moo, Joshua. The cow says, ‘Moo,’ ” said Frances.
According to the parents
The Matthews said they believe God led them to adopt special needs kids because they could do it well and He helps them.
Some special needs children are angry or violent, but not theirs, said Frances.
The couple have not only been “fortunate,” said Frances, but are so proud of their kids now.
“They are all pretty much self sufficient except one,” she added. For instance, Leah is a substitute teacher’s aide in a special needs class of a public school.
One key in their parenting is that they don’t view them as “a Down’s Syndrome kid, or a cerebral palsy kid, or whatever. They’re just kids,” said Frances.
“These kids, they’re not a burden, they’re an asset or a blessing. …
“What you teach them and how you raise them is how they’re going to be in society,” she explained.
The couple has seen God provide for them financially, they continued.
First Baptist Church, Rutherford, and the community have helped them also, they added. They try to return the favor. For instance, the Matthews are letting Josh Baum, 18, stay with them.
Jason Bogardus, pastor, noted that several years ago he and Dale baptized four of the children, including Elizabeth and Leah who are in wheelchairs. Dale assisted him in the baptistry.
The church provides a special needs Sunday School class which six of the children attend regularly. Members also have brought meals recently while Frances was ill.
“I think folks need to know about the Matthews and their family. They are doing a great thing,” said Bogardus.
Tennessee has a foster-care crisis with thousands of children in need of housing. There are a number of factors contributing to the situation in Tennessee, ranging from drug-related issues to abuse. The Tennessee Baptists Children’s Home is in partnership with, and has been certified by, the state’s Department of Child Services to equip families to become foster parents. The Children’s Home does not receive any state funding. For more information regarding foster care in Tennessee, contact the TBCH at 1-800-624-8591.