The emotional attachment to any family fostering a child is usually strong, but the ultimate goal of Social Services is to return the child to the birth parents when their life is back on track.
Potential foster parents take classes to help them prepare for the reunification of the child with their birth family even after months, a year, or longer with a child.
But when a five-day old newborn basically shows up at your doorstep, well, all that preparation doesn’t necessarily help.
Karl and Angie Magenhofer’s story has a happy ending by all accounts, and the telling of it brings tears to both of their eyes even today.
The couple calls themselves a “foster fail” – in that, eventually, they adopted Adrian, the newborn that was placed in their care to foster.
Their story is remarkable, in many ways.
The biological mother turned her life around and is a true success story. However, after she saw the bond between the Magenhofers and her biological son, she decided they would be best suited to raise him.
The relationship between Karl, Angie, Adrian and the biological mother continues to this day, with monthly visits bringing them together.
The decision to foster
Karl, best known for his years broadcasting news and sports on WSVA and Q101, and Angie knew that foster parents were desperately needed in the area and thought about fostering a child for a couple of years before finally taking classes through Rockingham County Social Services in 2019.
The couple’s first child, Camden, was stillborn at 26 weeks. Since that loss, the Magenhofers were blessed with two daughters, Brooklyn and Cardie. However, all three pregnancies were tough – and Angie’s life and health were in jeopardy. The couple made a decision after Cardie was born not to have any more children of their own.
After they took the classes, a home study was done, and then they waited.
For a few months, they didn’t hear anything.
Everything changed for the couple on March 11, 2020.
“Right at the beginning of March, we got a phone call. And they were like, ‘Hey, we have a baby that is coming in from the hospital. Don’t buy anything yet. Don’t do anything until we call you,’” Angie said.
The same day around 4:30 p.m., Karl and Angie got the call to meet at the Social Services office in Harrisonburg. They were tasked with caring for a five-day old boy named Adrian. The infant’s mother was apparently young and working to overcome addiction issues.
As first-time foster parents, they weren’t really sure how everything would work.
“And then the world shut down,” Angie said.
The COVID-19 pandemic made the Magenhofers’ foster experience different than anything they had prepared for.
“For eight or nine months, it was just us,” Karl said. “Because they were not allowed to have visits inside the Social Services building.
“How do you not fall in love with a five-day old baby?”
That part was super easy, he said, and “it made the rest of it much more difficult.”
Reunification with the biological mother
In November of 2020, reality set in. The biological mother of Adrian was in Roanoke at a rehab facility after a short jail sentence – and it was time to reunite her with Adrian.
“It was such a shock to be reminded there was someone else in the equation,” Karl said.
Outside of weekly photos that Angie sent to the social worker, the biological mother had not seen Adrian since he entered the Magenhofers’ Rockingham County home.
“You know, you have this utopian idea of what it is, and all of a sudden, you know, you’re emotionally invested in this child in a way that you maybe didn’t anticipate,” Karl said. “And that makes it a difficult struggle of, you know, gosh, is my heart, is my mind built to apply this theory and practice of foster care?”
The couple said the reunification in Roanoke was rough for them.
“That was a tough visit,” Angie said.
The realization sunk in for the couple that the child they had been raising since he was five days old wasn’t their child.
“Oh, that’s right. He does have a mother. It’s not me,” Angie said. “He doesn’t belong to us, like, he doesn’t, you know, he belongs to her. He belongs to Social Services. You know, that’s always the biggest part, you have to realize that he’s in the care, technically, of Social Services. And we’re just helping Social Services.”
A new relationship is born
As difficult as the reunification was for the Magenhofers, they also genuinely cared for Adrian’s biological mother. The troubled mother didn’t want to be back in Harrisonburg because she felt she had a stronger chance of recovery being away from the place and people that led to her addiction issue.
“We realized we needed a relationship with her just as much as we needed one with him (Adrian),” Angie said.
The biological mother, as it turns out, was raised by a foster family, and didn’t have a good experience, so she was apprehensive about the couple in the beginning.
Karl and Angie would prove to be different. They got the biological mother a coat and other winter gear, and they started to develop trust with her – and over time, they think she realized that the couple truly did care about her.
“At that point we realized that his (Adrian’s) positive outcome in life depended on her positive outcome in life,” Karl said.
Karl looked to his faith to help guide him through it all. He prayed for the best possible outcome for Adrian.
“I’m sure we felt all the things she felt. And I think that maybe you realize that they want the same thing you want. I prayed for him (Adrian) to be in the best situation for him,” Karl said. “And if that’s not with us, then God would also help me get over that pain, because that’s going to hurt.”
Visitation continued, and while the young mother got to know her son, Karl and Angie stayed with them, building a relationship with the biological mother while she played with Adrian, and getting to know each other in turn.
Social Services ultimately wanted to see how the biological mother would do on her own with Adrian, and in spring 2021, they asked the couple to leave during a planned visit in Harrisonburg.
Angie met Karl for lunch, and they planned to spend the time waiting together. Visits were usually about two hours.
“Within 15 minutes of me leaving, they asked me to come back and get him,” Angie said.
It was clear when she returned that Adrian was upset. And the biological mom was upset, too.
The young mother kept telling the couple to take good care of Adrian, and they thought she meant in that moment.
At the next planned visit, the mother asked Karl and Angie to adopt Adrian.
“She said, ‘You’re his mom, and you’re his dad. He doesn’t know me,’” Karl recalled. “She said, ‘I’m willing to give up my parental rights, but only if you adopt him.’”
The adoption was final in October 2022.
Adrian is now three years old, and Karl said he enjoys, among other things, hitting the tee ball together.
Adrian calls Angie “Mom” and Karl “Dad.”
Adrian’s biological mother joins them at least once a month for a trip to the park or to a pumpkin patch.
The biological mother sent Karl a Father’s Day text this year with the message that Adrian was so lucky to have Karl in his life.
The Magenhofers don’t want Adrian to grow up one day and find out he’s adopted and be angry.
“We always want him to know, when he’s able to understand what our family dynamic is, that his biological mother is still around,” Karl said.
They don’t want Adrian to feel he was abandoned by his biological mother.
They hope when the time comes, the inclusion of his biological mother throughout his life will make the situation easier.
“She’s a friend,” Angie said. “She’s somebody he knows.”
The Magenhofers aren’t looking to foster another child in the future. They are willing to take a child in, in the case of an emergency, for a few days.
“You learn something about yourself, and that you’re not wired to do that,” Karl said. “People who foster are incredible people. I couldn’t do it. And so the people who step in to fill that gap are incredible people.”
“Their hearts are huge,” Angie said. “I get too attached.”
The biological mother, by all counts, has her life back on track. She went through a drug rehabilitation program. With her addiction behind her, she’s held down a job, found a stable place to live, has transportation and has turned her life around to the point where she is taking care of her niece.
“I’ve got to believe that as far as CSB and all of them are concerned, she’s a huge success story,” Karl said. “We continue to root for her because she’s Adrian’s biological mom, and she has become a part of the extended family.”