Full House: Meet The Silcocks

Couple Takes In 25 Kids - All With Disabilities

If your idea of a big family is the Brady Bunch, brace yourself.

The Silcock family has 25 kids, and they're growing. They are one of the most unusual, and most remarkable, families that 60 Minutes II has met.

Over the last two decades, Ann Belles, and her husband, Jim Silcock, have taken in more than two-dozen children – each with some kind of disability.

They want to give a home and a family to kids who have no place else to go. And what it adds up to is a very full house. Correspondent Vicki Mabrey reports.
Walk into the Silcock's nine-bedroom home in Orange County, Calif., and you'll understand the meaning of controlled chaos.

There are kids everywhere, playing video games, doing homework, and getting ready for dinner - the first of three shifts.

There are 25 children in this household – 25 boys – and Ann Belles is mom to all of them.

"Hunter has cerebral palsy. Paul has spina bifida. David has traumatic brain injury due to child abuse. And Dylan has Duchenes Muscular Dystrophy," says Belles. "Jonathan has a traumatic brain injury; he was hit by a car at the age of 6. George came from Romania …"

They come from across the U.S. and Eastern Europe, ranging in age from 3 to 25. They were all considered "unadoptable" – abused, abandoned and disabled – until Belles found them.

She says she wanted to help "the unwanted" since she was just a kid herself: "When I was younger, I saw the movie 'Oliver,' a musical that came out in the '60s. I was really intrigued and consumed by the whole idea of orphans and taking kids out of orphanages … When I left the movie, when we walked out of the theater, I told my mom, 'That's what I want to do, I want to adopt orphan boys.'"

She was 6 then. By 19, she had started taking in foster children. Now, at 40, she has her hands full with orphan boys: "I saw the movie 'Oliver' first. If I would have seen 'Annie' first, it might have been orphan girls."

If "Oliver" was her inspiration, Belles is now seeing her dream play out with a little unexpected twist: 13 of her 25 children are rehearsing for a local theater production of "Oliver."

Belles doesn't focus on what her kids can't do - only on what they can. They go to mainstream schools, take karate, and even the most severely disabled are on the roller rink. And, they're all actors. In fact, many have acted in commercials and 17-year-old Hunter has appeared in three episodes of "Boston Public."

"They have learning disabilities and physical disabilities and emotional disabilities and medical disabilities. So they're not gonna be the soccer star at school or the debate team," says Belles.

"But acting has given them a venue to be successful, to build their self esteem, to do something unusual and to get recognized for that in a positive way."
And they don't have to look far to find a great role model -- their own father. Jim Silcock is himself a quadriplegic. He was paralyzed in a diving accident a decade before he met Belles on the Internet.

At the time, Belles already had 8 or 9 children when Silcock first started corresponding with her. "It was a heck of a lifestyle change," he says of their marriage.

It's a lifestyle change that would scare off most men. But since marrying in 1998, the Silcocks have adopted 22 boys, with three more adoptions pending.

Are there any children they won't take? "We did not want to take children that were acting out aggressively or sexually. We didn't feel that was safe," says Belles. "We felt that we could not deal with somebody who had significant fire-setting problems. And now, I'm telling people, I don't want runners. That I'm 40, and I just don't want to be chasing kids all over the place."

It really does take a village to raise this many kids – and a small army of childcare workers, nurses and volunteers come in daily to cook and clean, wash 30 loads of laundry a day and take care of the kids' chronic health needs.

But it also takes incredible organization to keep track of it all. Belles has her own system, carefully kept binders, which chronicle each child's adoption records, medical histories and doctors appointments.

"So I can remember, because sometimes you go to the pediatrician it's just for the flu shot and other times, it's because they were sick," says Belles. "When was the last time Dylan had an ear infection? I don't know. Let me go back and check my notes. I don't even know if a parent with two children could really remember that."
Some in the adoption world might wonder if 25 children is too many. Patrick McLogan did. He runs the international Christian adoption agency – and is also Belles' cousin.

He says initially he was skeptical about placing so many kids in one home: "My biggest concern was that all we're doing is warehousing kids. You know, we've taken them out of the state hospital, and she's just kind of stacking kids like cord wood."

But ultimately, McLogan placed seven boys with the Silcocks. What changed his mind?

"Visiting, and being there. My expectation was dark, dank, smelly, institutionalized. Seeing kids lining the walls, strapped in wheelchairs. And it was nothing like that," says McLogan.

"The first thing that jumped out to me is their artwork on the wall. Framed, on the wall. I don't even do that with my own kids. It's just stuck on the refrigerator with a magnet. This was framed. The home was clean, clean, extremely clean. The kids were active. And I said, this family is doing it right."

For Belles, doing it right means encouraging the kids to develop their skills so that one day they can live independently.

The five oldest children have already moved into their own homes. Anthony is the first Silcock boy to get a paying job. He now operates exhibits at a California science museum. Born with spina bifida, Anthony spent his life bouncing between institutions and foster homes. By age 17, he was considered "unadoptable".

"It didn't matter to us that he was 17. We've adopted kids that are 18,19,20, who still want parents," says Belles. "And when Anthony transitions from our family to his own home, and gets married or whatever he does in his life, he'll still have a mom and dad to come home to, he'll still have brothers that will be part of his life."

What did Anthony first think? "I just thought it was like another one of those institutional things, that was like a hospital," he says. "It's a lot different. They're [the family] there whenever I need something. They're behind me if I need support. Under all this chaos, I feel like I am loved."

And the proof is everywhere – in the photos that line the hallways and the boxes stored in the garage, where Belles keeps the first outfit each boy wore when he came to her. It's also where their achievements, big and small, are saved and savored.

"And they really love going through the boxes. Oh remember this. It could be six months ago. Remember when I was in soccer? It's really important for them to sort of go through their history," says Belles.
While Belles keeps track of the history, Silcock keeps tabs on the budget. "I do most of the major shopping," he says.

And to get an idea of how much it takes to maintain such a large family, just follow Silcock as he goes shopping with an entourage of his kids and helpers.

So how much did all that food cost? $880. And that's just for one week.

The list of their expenses is astonishing. Five mini-vans cost $2,000 a month to run. Their 14 paid helpers total $15,000 a month. More than $10,000 goes for tutors, orthodontia, therapy and nurses. And we haven't even mentioned the cost of clothing, insurance or their mortgage.

How can they afford this? "Like any family, I think, probably most large families, we do struggle. Jim and I run our own business," says Belles.

Their business, run in their rare spare moments out of their home, provides staff and support to help disabled adults live independently. But they say they couldn't do it without the funding they receive through the federal adoption assistance program.

Half of their children qualify for support -- a total of $26,000 a month. It sounds like a lot, but it disappears quickly in this house.

"Every bit of income that we have, every bit of money that comes into our family is spent on the children. That's what's important to me," says Belles. "I mean, I truly I own one pair of shoes and one pair of long pants, and I'm not into that. I don't have jewelry. I don't have a fancy car. My car's a van with a wheelchair lift."

"The cynics among us will still look at this and say, 'Well they're getting money for these children. The more children, the more money they get.' How do you answer them," asks Mabrey.

"Try it. Do it, if you think the little bit that this family receives for the care of these children is enough," says McLogan. "You clean out their trachs daily. You change their diapers when they're 17 years old. You do it. I'd be hard pressed to be able to take on that kind of responsibility."

Do they ever reach the point where they say, "25 is enough. No more kids?"

"I haven't reach the point of saturation yet," says Belles, laughing.

This spring, she'll be adding to the cast by adopting three more boys from Russia. They'll join the Silcock family of all-stars.

"This was my dream. And everything about what I'm doing was everything that I wanted to happen in my life," says Belles. "So, absolutely no regrets, this is perfect. I couldn't ask for it to be better -- maybe a bigger house, you know, would be nice."

  • Rebecca Leung

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