The Delightful Dozen

By Liz Massey, June 10, 2010.

Steve and Roger Ham think 12 is enough. With a dozen adopted children ranging in age from 1 to 15, they say their family is complete.

When they were featured in Echo Magazine in 2008, the men had a big, happy family of six adopted children. In the intervening two years, the couple and their brood have remained happy, and their family has grown even bigger – twice as big, in fact.

“It was never our intent to adopt 12 kids, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Steve said.

The Hams, who have foster parented 42 children in the past eight years, adopted the three foster children they were taking care of at the time of the 2008 article, bringing their headcount to nine. At that point, Steve said, “We thought we still had love in our heart (for more children) … so we put our name on the list” to be considered for additional placements.

Not long after, they were introduced to 4-year-old Logan, a boy with branchio-oto-renal, or BORS, syndrome, which affects his hearing, speech and kidneys. They also took in Isabel, Logan’s sister. Both children were from Steve’s hometown in Washington state. Steve and Roger were able to adopt both children and are both listed as fathers on the children’s amended birth certificates.

In the midst of adopting Logan and Isabel, the Hams learned that the birth mother of Cooper, their 1-year-old, had had another baby and was not seeking to retain custody of her. They soon began caring for Olivia, who celebrated her first birthday on May 27, just after the final two adoptions were completed on May 24.

Steve and Roger have gone to great lengths to ensure that the siblings and other relatives of the children they have adopted are kept together as a family. They were recognized for this in 2009 when the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Families gave them its “Second Mile Award.” The proud fathers were honored during the halftime of the Aug. 29 WNBA game between the Phoenix Mercury and the Connecticut Sun, and received a letter from the governor’s office.

“Jan Brewer’s office recognized us for that,” Steve said. “We were sort of shocked.”

Such accolades are a far cry from the reception the couple received five years ago when trying to gain custody of twins Jackson and Madison. The brother-sister pair, siblings of the couple’s first child, Michael, were 2 at the time, and there was considerable resistance to placing toddlers in the men’s care.

“We had to stand before a three-person panel and explain how we’d change a dirty diaper,” Steve said, noting that was something a straight couple would never be asked.

However, Steve and Roger said that they had received affirmation and support from their foster/adoption agency, Aid to the Adoption of Special Kids, or AASK, as well as from other families in the foster community in the Valley.

“People who do foster care have to be special people — you’re dealing with grief and loss issues and kids who have been abused,” Steve said.  “I’ve never felt out of place at a function or training.”

Heather Shew-Plummer, who handled all 12 of the Ham family adoptions at AASK before leaving the agency in March, said that the couple’s greatest strength as parents was their ability to advocate for their children.

“The two of them will fight to the ends of the Earth for their children,” she said. “They believe their children deserve all the resources and access to the professionals that will help them succeed.”

Both men come from large families – Steve is the youngest of 14 children, and Roger the youngest of 9 – something they say helps make management of their sizeable family comprehensible to them. Although all 12 children are in school or educational preschool during the day, Steve is a stay-at-home dad, overseeing the busy household and making sure its tight schedule runs smoothly.

The Hams said their main socialization these days comes from interactions with other same-sex couples who have foster or adoptive children. Steve also acts as a mentor for other same-sex couples who are working with AASK.

The family is planning a trip to the San Francisco for the Pride festivities in June; they will travel to the event in their new 15-passenger van.

Since they say they have decided their family is now complete, the Hams will be closing out their foster license soon. Their advice to other LGBT couples wanting to care for foster children was to prepare thoroughly by researching the foster care process, and to never give up.

“Never take no for an answer,” Steve said. “If we’d taken no for an answer, we would have never adopted our second child. The state had already told us, ‘one kid is enough for you.’”

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