Category: Adoption

A Father’s Day Reflection

As I look back on our adoption journey, I realize that our non-traditional family is happy not only because we went into the process with our eyes wide open, but also because we expected nothing from our children and yet we got everything in return.

Steve and I had been together for about 10 years when we started to think about adopting a child. We were at a point where everything was really good for us—we had a great relationship, a nice home, supportive families and we traveled quite a bit. While an infant or toddler was out of the question, we wanted to share our life with an older child.

Although we were initially concerned that our non-traditional family might face some challenges to adoption, we are glad we chose to work with Diakon Adoption & Foster Care.

Despite the fact they had not worked with a lot of same-sex couples at that point, it was never an issue for them or the children. Part of the preparation process was explaining to the children that they may go to a family different from their birth family. What they found was that we weren’t defined by our relationship. They saw us as fun—and we treated each other with respect.

Our first son was 12 years old when he arrived. Although we thought we were prepared, the reality was much harder. Fortunately, we were open to the coaching and support that comes from Diakon and, over the next eight years, we opened our home to three more sons between the ages of 8 and 12. Each of them had been placed with traditional families before coming to us, but those placements did not work out.

While Steve and I both had stable family lives and had never been in trouble, there isn’t anything we haven’t been involved with because of our kids—police, probation, trauma counseling, regular counseling, you name it. At the same time, we never made them into something they weren’t. As a same-sex couple, we have always had to depend on people accepting us for who we are, and we did that with our kids.

If there is any advice I can offer to someone considering adopting older, at-risk kids, it is that you can’t expect them to come into your life and fill a void for you. You can’t put that pressure on them. They need you to be 100 percent in this for them. That takes patience and a willingness to go through a lot of trial and error.

Our goal was to see our sons graduate high school. We taught them good work ethics and that, despite their obstacles, they could become anything they want to be.

What we found is that while it may have taken longer and been tougher than we expected, we got there together.

Wayne Hopkins and Steve Renninger are the adoptive parents of four young men who continue to challenge and enrich their lives, most recently with the addition of their first grandchild.

Everyone deserves a family

May is National Foster Care month. According to Pennsylvania’s Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network, or SWAN:

“Most children are in foster care for a short time, with the majority of children returning to their family of origin. A foster home can be an important haven, keeping children safe, helping them to cope with their grief and loss and helping to prepare them for the eventual return to their family. Because of these challenges, foster parenting requires special people—people who can take children quickly and without hesitation into their homes knowing that, when the time comes, they will need to lovingly let them go.

“Although most foster children are returned to their biological family, if such a return is not in the best interest of the child, the court may order that the parents’ rights be terminated and the child be placed for adoption. Should that happen, foster parents should play a key role in a child’s transition to an adoptive family, or they may consider adopting the child” themselves.

Sadly, each year more than 23,000 young adults age out of the foster care system. Diakon Adoption & Foster Care staff members work tirelessly to recruit and support resource families for these young adults, along with the children and youths referred to us by county agencies.

Those staff members share why it is so important to find families for all ages, including young adults:

• I primarily work with older youths and see firsthand what happens when they age out of care without locating an adoptive home. Unfortunately, I have seen youths be arrested within only a few months of being on their own. I have seen others become homeless. I have seen youth so desperate for love and belonging that they end up in unhealthy relationships, resulting in domestic abuse.
• Teens who age out of foster care with no identified adult resources tend to do poorly in life. In general, they have higher rates of homelessness, poverty and even incarceration than their peers who have family support. They also are more likely to have children of their own earlier, but may not have the resources to care for their children, thus perpetuating the likelihood of poor outcomes in future generations.
• Situations vary and depend on support systems. Some youths continue living with their resource (foster) family and some return to birth family members. Others may move on to post-secondary education, while others find their own apartment if they have the financial means. Unfortunately, some end up homeless and without necessary support.
• These young adults often become involved with negative influences because they are vulnerable.
• Unfortunately, many have nowhere to go. They might couch-surf with friends, rent substandard housing or return to families who, unfortunately, have not resolved the issues that caused the youth to come into care in the first place.

Our staff agrees that having the love and acceptance of a family is critical to the success a young person experiences.

• They need permanency, a place to call home and the support of a family to help them with things such as applying to colleges, applying for jobs, getting a driver’s license and various other things.
• Teens are never too old to need a family! Without a family, from whom do they seek guidance? Who will be there to cheer them on and encourage them? One teen stated that he cried through his entire high school graduation because there was no one there for him. A teen girl has asked who will walk her down the aisle when she marries? When they are in college, where will they go for holidays when the dorms close?
• No one is ready to enter the world on their own when they turn 18. Young adults need the guidance and structure of family to help them navigate the world.
• Everyone needs a family they can share life with.
• At any age, individuals need a place they can call “home” and call “family.”
• It is still important for these youths to have a family. A support system is crucial to young people, especially at that transitional point of life.

And although there aren’t as many success stories of older teens being adopted as we might home for, here are a few examples our staff members recall:

• A young adult who was adopted as a teen has been able to secure a part-time job while going to college. She has a place to live and a family to help her with finances until she can afford to be on her own.
• A delayed, paralyzed young man found a home at the age of 19. He started smiling when he found parents.
• We helped one older teen find her birth mother, whom she hadn’t seen since birth. That family welcomed her in and even though she was never adopted, she has connections!
• A medically challenged youth was adopted by a teacher.

You can help be a part of the success story for a child, youth or young adult! Please consider attending an upcoming information session; you also can request an information packet here.

Are you ready to foster or adopt?

Diakon Adoption & Foster Care staff members work diligently each day to recruit and support resource families, along with the children and youths referred to us by county agencies.

These staff members are knowledgeable and experienced in knowing what works, what doesn’t and how to try to make the transition into foster care or adoption as smooth as possible.

If adoption or foster care is something you think you may be interested in, here’s some honest advice from our staff members.

What skills or qualities do you believe are important for resource families to have?

Flexibility, compassion and patience were the responses that almost every staff member mentioned. They also said it’s important to have a sense of humor, realistic expectations, good communication skills, reliability, awareness of biases and a willingness to be challenged.

Attentiveness, the willingness to work as a team, to support the child through any loss or grief, and the capability to show unconditional love were also suggested.

One staff member specifically said it’s essential to have the ability to act in a non-judgmental way toward the child’s birth family and the circumstances that prompted out-of-home placement. Additionally, understanding how to deal with behaviors the child may exhibit because of past traumas is helpful.

What are some unexpected issues?

• Some children do not wonder much about their story when placed or adopted, but begin to ask questions as they get older.
• Children and youths aren’t typically “grateful” they’re in foster care.
• The level of grief that children feel about the loss of their birth family can come as a surprise, and it may take time to make reconnections.
• Negotiating relationships with various members of the child’s birth family.
• Families can be surprised by the number of appointments children have that can arise from a routine physical or dental exam.
• Transportation requirements for medical appointments, visitations, therapy and/or daycare, if applicable, are sometimes overwhelming at first.

Our adoption and foster care staff help to overcome such challenges!

Our staff members will help to put the proper services in place, including therapy, medication management, and so on.

In fact, they note, “we assist resource families with ideas on how to show a child not comfortable with affection how to receive it. We also help resource parents to understand the reasons behind negative behaviors without taking the behavior personally. We help families realize that their desire to have a family and their excitement over a placement occur just as the child is losing everything.

“A big challenge we help resource parents to overcome is their fear of the legal-risk component; most families worry they can’t do foster care or legal-risk placements because they worry about the pain or hurt they, resource parents, will feel. We help to encourage them that it’s less about the hurt/pain/loss that they might feel if a child leaves rather than the hurt/pain/loss the child might experience without their family stepping in to help!”

Staff members encourage building a positive relationship with a child’s biological family, by having a more engaging attitude toward the birth family both verbally and nonverbally.

“We provide an outlet for resource families to vent and talk about their frustrations, feelings and questions at any time and in any place in a case,” they say. “We offer advice such as picking your battles—often, it’s more about encouragement, encouragement and encouragement! And we have a variety of post-permanency services and support groups available. Our resource families never have to feel as if they are alone on their journey!”

If you are looking for more information about becoming a resource parent or to attend an information session, please click here.

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Adopting a teen means being “someone to stand by them”

Amy Murray has a plan, should she ever be lucky enough to win big in the lottery.

“I’d buy a big piece of land and build homes for all of them,” she says of older children who remain in foster care, waiting to be adopted. “They are at a huge disadvantage. When these kids go through what they go through, they trust no one. Sometimes they don’t even know how to articulate what has happened to them.”

In May, Amy formally adopted one of those young people.

Skylar, now 13, had a long history in foster care, Amy says. At the age of six, she had been removed from her mother’s home, when the environment became unsafe, and placed in foster care. She then lived with her birth father and his girlfriend until that arrangement became unsafe, which led to her being moved to a number of foster homes.

Caring for the medically fragile: Still just a child who needs a loving home

Becky Delp and her husband have fostered children in the past, but for the first time, they are providing care for a medically fragile child. Although she had some concerns at first, those passed quickly as she gained confidence in her ability to manage the little boy’s needs and her family embraced him.

At first, I thought: I’m not qualified, I’m not trained.

Andy* needed to be fed through a g-tube when he first came to us. He was born prematurely and spent his first six months in the hospital and then went to a special facility. He had cancer and a weakened immune system. He has chronic lung disease. He needed physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. It felt overwhelming.

But you’re not on your own. We got training through the hospital and nursing care agency. A nurse stayed at our home every night. Because Andy was under the age of three, his therapy visits were done in our home. We got great support from our Diakon caseworker. Someone was always available to help.

Caring for a medically fragile child does entail extra steps from the foster family. There are lots of appointments. With the nurse there every night, we had to get used to having someone else in our home. But the nurses quickly became like family and their expertise was priceless. As a foster family, you go with the flow anyway.

The chance to change a life

Janice and her husband, Will, recently adopted a brother and sister, ages 13 and 16 respectively. She shares her thoughts and a few lessons she’s learned about first fostering and then adopting teenagers.

I always wanted to adopt. My best friend growing up was adopted and when I was dating my husband, I told him I wanted to adopt. Luckily, he was on board.

I was particularly interested in adopting siblings. I had heard stories about siblings being separated when adopted and thought how sad that is and how terrifying it must be for them. They were just taken away from everything and everyone they know and then to lose their last connection.

When we were ready to adopt, we went to an information session provided by Diakon Adoption & Foster Care.

Special needs redefined

We social workers use a lot of lingo and many acronyms to describe the work we do in the child welfare world.

In fact, that language—most fields, though, have their own jargon—can become confusing to new families as they begin to gather information about the children we place, the foster care or adoption process and whether they want to become foster or adoptive parents or both.

One of the terms we use that people question is “special needs.” Often, when someone hears those words from us for the first time they think about children who are disabled or handicapped, probably needing special educational accommodations. This perception is not, however, what this phrase means to us.

Humble and kind

Whenever the Tim McGraw song “Humble and Kind” plays on the radio, I can feel our 8-year-old roll his eyes as I remind him that these lyrics are something I hope he takes to heart:

“Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you / When you get where you’re going, don’t forget to turn back around / And help the next one in line. / Always stay humble and kind.”

It’s important to us that Cayden understands that we have been incredibly blessed to have had so many people help us in our journey to become a family.

adopting children with special needs

Serving children with special medical needs

Working in the field of adoption and foster care for 42 years, Marcia Moll is a social worker with a master’s degree in early childhood development. As the mother of two grown adoptive children, she understands firsthand how unconditional love for a child can transform a family. Below, she discusses a new Diakon’s foster care program, designed to touch the lives of children with special medical needs throughout eastern and central Pennsylvania.


Medically fragile foster care can change lives!

A little girl was hospitalized for six months in a children’s hospital waiting for an organ transplant. She spent most of her time being cared for by the hospital staff because her birth family was not involved. The county came to us at Diakon Adoption & Foster Care and asked if we had a family who would be a foster family until her transplant. A family stepped forward. 

They had adopted a child in the past and, unfortunately, that child had passed away. This family understood that a child should live in a family environment instead of a hospital setting. 

Fortunately, the little girl’s foster parents were able to visit once or twice a week. They met with the nurses and doctors and learned to care for the child. After eight months of hospitalization, she was finally able to be released to her new foster family. The family ended up adopting her, knowing full well that her survival rate—because of her age and the type of organ needed—is less than 50 percent. 

Yet, the difference they made through their love and commitment is outstanding. The little girl is now living the life of a typical child—she is not lying in a hospital bed being cared for by hospital staff; rather, she has a family and has blossomed to a point no one ever expected.  

Medically fragile foster care: A special child and a special 

Medically fragile foster care involves a child in the foster care system who has a continuing medical condition. A child’s condition may be something easily maintained with medication and routine doctor’s appointments—such as asthma. Or it can be a more severe or life-threatening diagnosis, such as cystic fibrosis. A child may or may not be ambulatory and sometimes medical equipment may be needed for the children to live the best life they can. Although the medical conditions are diverse, the children have one thing in common: They need to be cared for by a loving family.  

The program serves the needs of county children and youth workers who need foster families to care for a child with medical needs—in hopes the child will eventually be reunited with his or her birth family.  Foster families ensure that the child receives the appropriate medical care while also offering stability. 

The families also serve as mentors for the birth family by helping them fully understand the medical issues involved. In cases in which children cannot be reunited with their birth family, we hope the foster family can become a permanent resource and eventually adopt the child. 

Medically fragile conditions arise in varying situations

In most cases, children with medically fragile conditions come to us directly from a hospital setting, often because their medical condition elevated to a point they needed hospital care. If a child is born with a medical condition, the birth parent may feel totally overwhelmed and the child may need more support than the birth family can provide. 

In other cases, some children are born healthy and medical disorders develop or conditions arise as a result of abuse or neglect.  If a child is suffering as a result of parental negligence, it may not be the goal to unify the child with the birth parent until the birth family receives proper services and the situation is rectified.  

Weencourage any family already thinking about fostering or adopting to look within their hearts to consider a child who has a medical condition. Don’t sell yourself short. Our life experiences often prepare us for caring for a child with medical needs.  

Maybe, for example, we have a family member with diabetes or asthma or another condition and we could use this knowledge in offering care for the child. But even if families do not have an understanding of a particular medical diagnosis, they just have to be open to learning. The situation may not always be easy, but what seems to help them through it is their unwavering desire to help a child. 

We are here to help 

At Diakon, we believe strongly in providing support services for all of its foster families. We offer general training that prepares a family to bring a child into their home. And for medically-fragile program foster families, we ensure they receive the proper training to care for a child with medical needs. 

In some instances, we may arrange training provided by hospital staff, medical supply representatives or our own staff. Regardless, we work as a team. We will not place a child in a home until the family members have a level of confidence in their ability to care for the child. 

In addition to training, Diakon staff is always there to help throughout the process. On a weekly basis, case managers help families organize and manage all of a child’s medical needs.

Another avenue of encouragement comes through our support groups. On a monthly basis, Diakon offers families the opportunity to meet and share concerns and advice with one another. Families often discuss referrals, doctors, nurses and how to be a strong medical advocate. We often hear that support groups are a tremendous asset to our families.

The need for families is greater than ever …

There are not enough families to meet current needs.

Counties are scrambling to find foster families who can be a mentor to birth families—which is the primary goal. In fact, 10 to 15 percent of foster children have some sort of a medical need beyond everyday parenting. But fewer than 10 percent of families are willing to take a medically fragile child. We don’t see families coming forward in large numbers, but we do see the need growing more every day. 

I want to remind anyone thinking about foster care or adoption to look inside their heart. Every family who steps forward to care for a medically fragile child makes a lasting imprint on a child’s life. We are working hard to spread the word about this amazing program that serves special children with special needs.

A fun way to give back… Dining with Diakon

Jill Kearney, founder and CEO of Senior Moves by Design (a division of the JDK Group, LLC), shares her views on the upcoming Dining with Diakon* event. Senior Moves by Design is a company that primarily moves older adults into senior living communities, helping them to find “treasures” and design their new home around things they love. The company also helps them to sort through their current home so items can be given to family or donated. Further, they stage houses to sell and do a full pack and unpack on moving day.

*On Sept. 28, 12 “celebrity chefs” from business, industry, and non-profit organizations will gather at Bethlehem’s SteelStacks. Offering an enticing menu of dishes and desserts, the chefs raise funds for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care Services, which serve children and families throughout eastern and central Pennsylvania.

How did you feel when you were asked to be a celebrity chef?

When I was first asked to represent my company at Dining with Diakon, I was flattered, but by no means call myself a celebrity. I have a small company with 23 employees. To think that I will be joining a high caliber of corporate heads and local television personalities is kind of funny—but I feel very flattered to be included. This event is a wonderful way to support and donate to the cause. This is my first time going to Dining with Diakon. I am excited not only to attend, but also to be a chef.

Why do you support Diakon Adoption & Foster Care?

Senior Moves by Design believes it is possible to have joyful moves and that what we do is just as much a ministry as it is a business. To me, this is an opportunity to represent my business while ministering to others. In addition, my niece and nephew are both adopted and a few of my best friends adopted children. I have always been pro-life, so from my perspective, we need the help and support from agencies like Diakon Adoption & Foster Care to make sure all children have “forever” homes.
As a business owner, why do you believe it is important to give back?

When you are building a small company, it is easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day tasks that keep your business running. To be able to take a little time and focus on something that you don’t do every day, but that makes an impact on others, is important. In fact, it is a gift. I feel blessed to be able to do it. This opportunity makes us want to do more.

What will you be sharing the night of the event? What are your favorite recipes?

For the event, we were awarded the chocolate table. My favorite food really is a toss-up between chocolate or shrimp scampi. Although I normally cook without recipes, here is an outline of my favorite shrimp scampi dinner followed by my favorite chocolate recipe.

Shrimp Scampi
4 tablespoons Irish butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves of garlic fresh garlic minced
1 teaspoon of salt
½ medium sized yellow onion diced
2 medium sized zucchinis
Pinch of red pepper flakes
½ pound of angel hair pasta
1 pound of peel shrimp and deveined

DIRECTIONS: Boil pasta by placing a tablespoon of olive oil in the water along with a clove of garlic and 1 teaspoon of salt. This allows the pasta to pick up the garlic flavor.

In a skillet, melt the butter. Add olive oil and ½ finely diced yellow onion. When the onion is clear, add the garlic. Take 2 medium zucchinis and cut them into half inch cubes. Place them in the skillet with the olive oil, garlic, onion and butter. Once the zucchinis soften and begin to turn slightly brown, add pinch of red pepper flakes and the shrimp. Toss for about 3 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink. Warm plates. Place pasta on the plates. Top pasta with shrimp mixture. Feeds 2-4 people.

Cappuccino Mouse Cup
http://www.diakon.org/dining-with-diakon-adoption/recipes/details.aspx?recipeId=2288

In closing, I am thankful for this opportunity. Giving back is certainly sweet!

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