John and Jane Thomas plan to retire in a few years. He's a state prison warden; she's a chaplain.

Their retirement plan? Raising five adopted children. The youngest is currently 7 years old.

Most baby boomers and soon-to-be retirees dream of escaping the rat race at work and pushing adult children out of the nest, then maybe hitting the road or golfing nonstop.

Not the Thomases.

The couple - John is 55, Jane is 53 - have a flock of adopted foster children.

Isaiah, 21, Alaina, 20, and Jonathan, 16, joined the Thomas family in 2009.

"They were considered 'special needs' in the foster system because they were siblings," John Thomas recalls.

In 2012, Dontae came to live with the Thomas family and is now heavily involved in track and football.

Jordan was adopted the day he was born. Diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, he's now 7.

"Yeah, I'm 55, and I have a first grader!" John Thomas says, laughing.

The superintendent of the State Correctional Institution-Chester, in Delaware County, John didn't have children from his first marriage.

But "I always had been in giveback mode. I believe in mentoring young men and thought, 'What's a way that I can do permanent mentoring?' "

Jane Thomas has adult children from her previous marriage. After she and John wed in 2009, he was game to adopt, but she laid down some conditions: "If you want kids, you have to scale back on travel" and board membership with the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice.

He agreed.

The bigger picture

Many teenagers were aging out of foster care and "ending up in my criminal justice system," John says. "Even 21-year-olds want to be adopted. They still want a family to call their own. In college on Christmas break, they want to go somewhere. They want to call someone to take pictures at their prom and be proud of them."

Financially, the Thomases' "Brady Bunch" family makes little sense.

Jane and John will live on his state pension once he retires in a few years. Jane returned to work full time about six months ago.

Paying for college won't be as burdensome because two children adopted as teenagers can claim themselves as independents.

"That's a nice benefit. When they put in for financial aid, they don't claim my income," John says.

But the Thomases have expenses - including a $500-a-week food bill.

So why do this?

"We are put here for things we can't take with us. To care for each other. When you're retiring, you have nothing but time. What a way to invest in the life of another who's never had a mom or dad," he says.

"Most of my peers are wondering, 'Will my 401(k) last? Will I have enough money in retirement? When can I start gallivanting around?' We won't live a life of luxury. We'll have enough."

The Thomases encourage other retirees to think about adopting.

"We are not perfect parents," he says. "They don't exist. Kids don't need perfect parents, just unselfish people."

Trending older

The age of potential adoptive parents has risen.

"Society is different today, with 60 being the new 40," says Gloria Hochman, spokeswoman for the National Adoption Center in Center City. "Now, it's not unusual that we hear from someone 55 years old or older who wants to adopt."

Eligible children have grown older, too. Adoption used to be associated primarily with babies.

"But most of our children are over age 10, and many are teenagers or even 20 years old. They still want a family," says Hochman.

"Older people are wonderful candidates for older children," she says. "It makes a lot of sense for someone in their 50s or 60s to have a child that age."

There's no age limit to adopt older children, says Kathleen Creamer, supervising attorney at the Family Advocacy Unit, Community Legal Services in Center City.

"At 85 you can adopt, as long as you are healthy enough and able to care for the kids."

She refers interested seniors to the website

A wider view

Some people take in children through what's known as "kinship" care.

In Pennsylvania, the state must first look for extended family of potential foster children, says Bucks County Court Judge Robert J. Mellon, who adjudicates foster cases.

But non-blood relatives, caregivers deeply involved in a child's life - a babysitter, a best friend's parents, a teacher - also can become a child's guardian.

"You can be someone the child has a relationship with and still be considered under kinship," says Mellon. "It's an expansive definition of family."

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