They call him the baby whisperer. Luther Burbank has been a temporary father to 88 children — 66 of whom were babies — over the last 21 years.
At 77 years old, the Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., senior has been fostering children since 1999.
“I had been injured at work so I couldn’t work anymore. Instead of sitting home doing nothing — I love kids, and they are our future — so I like taking care of them,” Luther said.
The kids call him grandpa, or sometimes dad.
Luther and his wife Leona partner with Catholic Social Services to take children in care. Usually they’re with them for about three years.
“It doesn’t matter their size because the thing you give to them is TLC. And it doesn’t cost a penny. It’s the one thing they need the most.”
Besides rocking the babies and cuddling them, the senior estimates he’s changed more than 10,000 diapers and made even more bottles of formula.
“We kinda spoil them but it’s part of the job,” he said with a smile.
Leona plays a pivotal role too.
“I do the night shift. He does not get up with babies in the night,” she said.
Fostering is a 24-7 job and Luther will turn 78 this year. A number of years ago, the couple tried to retire and go travelling. It didn’t last long.
“At the end of the six months, we were gone he said, ‘You know, I really miss the babies.’ So I stayed retired and we went back to doing this full time,” Leona laughed.
Luther said fostering has a special place in his heart.
The couple’s family has been very supportive as well, including their only biological daughter.
“When they come into our house, they’re not foster children. They’re our children and they’re treated as such,” Luther said.
“For that time we can show them what love is, what a family looks like — and make them feel safe,” Leona added.
One boy has been with them for the better part of 15 years. He came to them first as a toddler. This year, the football player and wrestler will become an adult. They consider him their son.
The Burbanks also have photos of twin girls in their home. They fostered them for a number of years. When the girls were later adopted, their new parents asked Luther and Leona if they want to continue to be part of the twins’ lives. The answer was a resounding “Yes.”
“It’s gratifying and I get to be one of the lucky ones,” Luther explained.
Catholic Social Services staff know they can rely on the couple when a child is in need.
“Leona and Luther are an amazing couple who absolutely pour their heart and souls into every baby we have come through,” placement coordinator Talina Schulz said.
“They constantly take children without reservation and do everything they can to ensure those children have the best possible start in life.”
Children requiring foster homes often have challenging backgrounds.
“Children come into care when the government deems that it is either unsafe for them to be at home, or when their parents aren’t able to meet their needs. That includes things like domestic abuse, addictions issue, homelessness,” Schulz explained.
A stay with the Burbanks means their needs will be met — and then some.
“When these children come to us and they’re in bad shape or have problems, it makes me feel very good that when they leave, hopefully we’ve given them something that helps their future,” Luther said.
Fostering comes with a lot of responsibility though, and it’s not easy.
“When they come into your life, sometimes they’re very jumpy, very nervous. And once they get used to the fact that they have security, then they’re good. It takes a while,” Luther said.
The number one trait he said prospective foster parents need is patience.
Luther said he loves every child who comes through his door and plans to continue to foster as long as he’s able.
If you’re interested in fostering, reach out to Catholic Social Services at 780-471-1122.
“We absolutely need more foster parents in the Edmonton region, as well as the Alberta region. We have multiple children who are unfortunately looking for homes. It’s unfortunately a constant rotation and there just aren’t enough foster homes in the system at this time. We’re always looking for homes for babies to teenagers.”
Luther hopes other seniors might find the time to help out, especially when it comes to babies.
“Their smiles are worth more than anything in the world.”