Category: Adoption

Defeat? No way! Adoption and foster care proceed despite pandemic

It’s been a tough year for everyone. But imagine, during this pandemic, trying to find families for thousands of children and youths across the nation without a safe, permanent place to live.

That task seems unsurmountable; I can tell you it’s not.

As a family support specialist with Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, I know it’s possible to bring permanence to the lives of waiting children despite the added challenges of COVID-19—because I see it happening.

Through foster care, foster-to-adopt (often called legal-risk placements) and special needs and domestic adoption, we continue to find forever families for children and youths.

Becoming a parent was like Christmas for me

I always wanted to be a mom.

As children, my sister and I would pretend to be pregnant, placing balls under our shirts. As a fourth-grade teacher, I saw my future child in my students. And following marriage, I dreamed about what it would be like to be a parent.

Despite those dreams, we were unable to conceive and then an emergency hysterectomy forced me to face a truth—if I wanted to be a mom, I would have to take a different path.

Although many foster and adoptive parents have children born to them, for some of us these services offer a means not only to help children but also to become the parents they need and we want to be.

Allowing a different story to take shape …

Dan and I married 17 years ago, when I was newly out of college. I graduated in December of that year with an education degree. Being mid-school year, it was difficult for me to find a full-time teaching job.

At that time, there was a family from our church adopting a sibling group who needed child care. I became their nanny during the day—my first experience working directly with children in the foster-care system.

I believe God used this experience to foreshadow an intended story, one very different from Dan’s and my own plans.

They were great kids and I loved my time with them. In the evenings, Dan and I would have conversations about doing something similar, welcoming a sibling group into our home someday.

We decided to start a family but five years passed before I became pregnant with our first son. Because of continuing challenges with conception, we believed God was telling us to close that door.

We moved on and started to consider adoption again. We researched, prayed and both felt called by God to foster a sibling group. It broke our hearts to hear about siblings not being able to be together. Both Dan and I had siblings growing up and are still close to them. We went through classes, interviews and a home study. After that home study, I apologized to Dan for being cranky and exhausted. It turns out I was pregnant with our second son.

God had pressed the pause button on foster care.

After our second son was born, we moved to Pennsylvania so Dan could finish his dissertation and earn his doctorate. Once settled, we felt God was telling us to press “un-pause” and we did. We included the boys in our conversations about fostering siblings and possible adoption.

They were excited about it.

We have friends at church with four kids, three of whom became part of the family through foster-adopt with Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, so we reached out to Diakon to begin classes.

We planned to seek two foster two girls, no older than 5. We got several phone calls over six months. During that time, one of those phone calls was to provide respite care for a sibling group of three, two girls and a boy, ages 6 through 18 months. It was just for five days, so we said sure!

The way they interacted with our boys showed us that limiting our foster-care choice to under age 5 wasn’t necessary (another nudge from God to allow Him to write our story).

After that respite placement, we contacted Diakon and increased our age limit. Shortly after that, we received a phone call about two girls, ages 7 and 3. They are now our adopted daughters.

Yet God’s story had another unexpected chapter. A Diakon adoption specialist contacted us nearly two years later and told us the girls’ birth mother was pregnant again and asked us to be a resource family for this newborn. How could we resist? Their baby brother was born and he is now our adopted son.

God just wrote our story so perfectly. Flexibility is so important. We learned it wasn’t about us growing our family; it was about meeting the needs of these kids.

We learned not to try to control every detail and to allow God to direct us. That story is so much better than how you might want to write it yourself.

—Trista Herrlin

Fostering: Following a call into the unknown

I had been a licensed foster parent for only a few weeks when I got the call: “Expect a 5-year-old girl to arrive on your doorstep at 7 p.m. this evening.”

My mind immediately began to race. Instead of focusing on important details, such as buying a car seat and preparing her room, my thoughts quickly jumped to the realization I didn’t have any milk in the house and my carpets needed vacuumed! Here I was in the midst of this big, life-changing moment, and I was thinking about minor details.

During the next few hours, my stress level grew and I began to panic. But when 7 p.m. arrived, I opened the door to be greeted with a big smile and a wave: “Hi,” she said, “I’m Sophie.”

And in that moment, I realized that everything would be okay: This child will be an important part of my life and this moment is special.

As a single parent who worked full-time, I found the next few days especially challenging; they passed in somewhat of a blur. While I made sure Sophie’s basic needs were met, she worked through the shock and emotions that come with a foster placement. Looking back now, I wish I had more clarity so that I could remember everything that happened.

The next six months were probably the hardest, as we adjusted to our new life together. But, to be fair, she is such a joyful child that she made it easy. We have had what I would call the easiest, luckiest journey possible. We just fell in love with each other.

Although we initially thought our time together would be limited to a six-week placement, that milestone came and went with many others. While I worried how I would let go when the time came, I realized the only way to make it work would be to change my outlook and live day-by-day. As someone who thrives on planning, that was difficult to do, but Sophie made the difference.

The entire first year we were together, I kept telling myself: “If this is my only Christmas, my only Easter, my only summer with her, I want to make sure it is right for her and right for me.” I had to keep reminding myself of how grateful I was for every single day we had together, even if it ended at some point.

Fortunately, she never left and two and a half years later, she officially became a Fritz!

Looking back on the process, I can now say it was all meant to be. But before I met Sophie, I wasn’t so sure. The only thing I was certain of was that I wanted to be a mom. Foster care called to me.

And so in the fall of 2016, I reached out to Diakon Adoption & Foster Care and attended an information session. By the following January, I had completed training but quickly hit a wall with the paperwork. I dragged my feet for several months before I completed my licensing in June. While at one time I thought every action was random, I now recognize how things could have turned out very differently.

On June 26, 2017, a little girl walked into my house with a big smile on her face and everything changed. I knew in that instant she was the reason all of those other things didn’t happen for me. I knew in that moment that everything happens for a reason.

—Emily Fritz, Diakon Adoption & Foster Care Parent

Emily and Sophie Fritz look forward to celebrating their third Christmas together this year and enjoying activities from their first shared holiday that are now cherished family traditions.

Emily and Sophie

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.