Category: Adoptive Parent

I raised needed funds … even before getting to the office

This morning, as I checked my email and chewed on my breakfast burrito, I contemplated how I had already supported Diakon Adoption and Foster Care twice today.

And it was easy and fit right in with my morning routine.

That routine is simple and probably very much like yours. The best mornings are the ones I’m the first to wake up. This gives me a chance to make a cup of coffee and collect my thoughts before the day begins as I peruse my favorite websites for the morning news.

It doesn’t take long, however, for my six-year-old ball of energy to wake and come into the home-office clutching his favorite blanket and asking for breakfast. Then it’s time to pack lunches, shower, get dressed and find my son’s missing shoe while convincing him that yes, indeed, he has to go to school today.

After the traditional morning tug-of-war with my son to get him out the door, we are off to daycare. Then I head to my office on the Frey Village campus in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

I stop on the way at Rutter’s, a local convenience store and gas station, to gas up my Jeep and pick up a breakfast burrito. I arrive at the office, greet my officemates and boot up my computer, ready to start another day of seeking grants for Diakon and its many programs.

Yet my day of fundraising had already begun!

That’s because Diakon Adoption and Foster Care is a current finalist in Rutter’s Vote with Your Dollars Campaign.

By taking two minutes to log onto www.ruttersrewards.com to register my VIP card and select Diakon from a list of 10 charities as my charity of choice, every time I gas up my jeep or make a purchase at Rutter’s, Diakon receives a vote.

Voting will continue through Oct. 31 and, in November, Rutter’s will tally the votes and the charities with the most votes will receive a grant for capital purchases and improvements.

In Diakon’s case, the funds requested will refurbish the family visitation room at the York office of Diakon Adoption and Foster Care with new furniture and toys. The grant also will be used to purchase safety supplies for emergency foster-care placements, including car seats and portable cribs.

Diakon Adoption and Foster Care is a program that tugs at my heart. The children in care, through no fault of their own, have experienced heartbreaking situations and trauma. What they need most is a stable, loving and permanent home and Diakon works hard to help these children find their “forever families.” Although I am not in a position right now to serve as a resource family and open my home to these special children, I do look for other ways to support the program.

The Rutter’s Vote with Your Dollars campaign doesn’t even require money out of my pocket. I just spend on things I would buy anyway—gasoline, coffee, sandwiches, a pack of gum or a newspaper. All the program took was registering my card on the Rutter’s website and using it with each purchase. I don’t even have to have my card with me. I registered my phone number with the card and I key that number into the keypad to assign my purchase to my account.

Rutter’s is based in York and has locations throughout south-central Pennsylvania. If you live near one of Rutter’s 47 locations, I encourage you to obtain a VIP card, register online to support Diakon Adoption and Foster Care and vote between now and Oct. 31.

I also encourage you to share this information with your friends, co-workers, families and anyone else with a heart open to supporting to community’s most at-risk children.

 

Tammy McCrae
Grants Officer

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Connecting with birth parents – Five easy tips

Tim and I have been incredibly blessed to have a positive relationship with our son’s birth family.

In fact, the absolute best piece of advice we received in resource family training was to be friendly with birth parents. In some cases, this is probably incredibly tough to do. But in our case, a little bit has gone a long way.

I think it’s easy to see birth parents as the enemy in the foster care system. But regardless of whatever mistakes parents have made, they almost always still love their kids. It is tough to try to connect with them, but all outcomes of success include benefit for the child, so it’s worth it!

Here are a few simple ideas to break the ice and extend an olive branch to birth parents: 

1. Introduce Yourself! We learned that in six homes, we were the first family to introduce ourselves to birth parents. Imagine being a parent and not knowing who your child was staying with. Being able to meet and greet can significantly lower anxiety for both parties.

2. Start off with a deferential statement such as, “You have beautiful children.” At this point in your foster children’s lives, you are providing for all of their needs—physical, emotional and so on. Knowing that someone else is building a strong connection with your child can be very threatening for a parent. Find a way to indicate that you still acknowledge that the kids “belong” to their birth parents.

3. Ask birth parents if there is any important information you need to know to best care for their children. Birth parents want to be heard. They (like you) are at the mercy of the court system. Decisions about their child’s care have been taken out of their hands. Even if a child has been in care for a long time, a birth parent may have something he or she wants to share with you that a previous foster parent did not pick up on. If a parent does share with you something you should do to best care for their child, follow through with it if you can, and show the parents that you have listened.

4. Take photos to visits. Your home and the child’s world are unknowns to the birth parents. By printing out pictures to give at visits, you give them a glimpse into your world. This step will reinforce that the child is happy, has toys, and so on.

5. Speak well of birth parents when they are not around. If you smile and nod to birth parents at visits, but then talk poorly about them behind their back, your child will notice. Help reinforce that you, birth parents, caseworkers, and judges are all trying to work together for the child’s safety and best interest.

Building trust with birth parents can only benefit the child. By showing that you are not the enemy, you open a conversation that can result in working together for the child.

If your foster child observes you respecting his or her birth parents, the child’s trust in you will also increase.

After all—the goal of foster care is reunification. You have the power to help make that transition a positive one for children and youths by actively communicating with birth parents.

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What about Amelia?

At times, that question—continually and casually posed by family and friends—threatened to overwhelm me. If I had been pregnant with another child, it would have been celebrated. Instead, the prospect of adding to our family through adoption from foster care was met with raised eyebrows and concern.

Our biological daughter, Amelia, was 4 years old when we began the foster-to-adopt process. There were so many fears surrounding the uncertain world of foster care. In the hopes of offering love and safety to another child, would we destroy our own child’s sense of security?

For some families, the fear that their own biological children might be hurt physically or emotionally is enough to make them steer clear of foster care altogether.

As a parent, you want to protect your own children from the harm and hurts of this world. But what if we are called to something greater?

In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 15,000 children in foster care. For many of those kids, a forever family will never come because, among other reasons, fear keeps parents away.

Instead of giving in to the worries of everything that could go wrong, my husband and I remained faithful and quietly continued to take the next steps until we were certified by Diakon as resource parents.

In October 2014, we received the call for an emergency placement for six-year-old twins. The workers had little information to go on. After several calls and emails back and forth to gather what information we could, we stepped out in faith and said “yes.”

That evening, Kaitlyn and Davien arrived at our doorstep. They were physically thin and emotionally fragile and came to us with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We had little time to prepare our daughter, and we worried that her whole world was about to be turned upside down.

Instead of complaining about sharing her clothes, she happily helped pick out a pretty nightgown for Kaitlyn. As the weeks went on, our daughter’s bedroom was fitted with bunkbeds and a dresser for Kaitlyn. Her playroom was turned into a boy’s bedroom for Davien. The twins were calling us “mom” and “dad” and still there were no signs of jealously, no fights, no harsh words. Amelia was even calling them her brother and sister long before we dared.

My husband and I were amazed by our daughter. Instead of being emotionally scarred by the changes, she has been enriched. This January, we finalized the twins’ adoption in court. For Amelia, it was just another day. After all, they had been her brother and sister from the beginning.

~ Amanda Merrell
Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

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When a generation gap is no gap at all

For many people, the idea of having a 7-year-old child and a grandchild at the same time, even if the grandchild is quite young, may seem out of the ordinary.

But that is where God’s will has taken us.

My wife, Shirley, and I have two adult children, Leigh Anne and Ken—and two younger children, Savannah, 9 and Autumn, 7, both of whom joined our family through adoption. Our family grew in size when Leigh Anne and TJ were married last year and blessed us with our first grandchild, Maeve, this year.

Shirley and I were empty-nesters. We never thought our path in life would change in the direction it did. But, in the fall of 2007, God presented us with the blessing of becoming parents again.

Savannah, at the time less than 3 months old, needed someone to provide love and protection. God placed this challenge and blessing upon our hearts, and we began a journey that encompassed every emotion you can imagine.

In the spring of 2009, Savannah’s two-month old infant sister, Autumn, was in the same situation. We knew again we were being led, and so doubled our blessings by deciding to rear the two sisters together.

Amazingly, we have no “generation gap” our family! Both our 30-plus-year-old children love and adore their younger siblings—and those strong bonds flow the other direction as well. Our son, who lives in Japan, just had his annual two-week visit with us and we had the opportunity to spend time with his Japanese girlfriend. On their last day in the U.S., instead of sightseeing, both said they wanted to spend their day with his sisters.

Leigh Anne is program director with a county CASA office. CASA stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Children. She has been especially supportive as we followed this path. She, along with the wonderfully dedicated staff members of Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, have continually raised our awareness of children in distress and in need of fostering, of CASA volunteer support, and how best to navigate the sometimes-convoluted path to adoption. In fact, the three sisters adore one another and can’t wait for their next sleepover weekend.

Though fostering and adopting can take a long time, a great deal of effort and certainly patience—plus a mountain of paperwork—we encourage others to take the plunge because providing a safe haven for a child at risk is an incredible experience with indescribable rewards.

Diakon has been especially important in our forever family as program staff stepped forward to provide support and acted at times as intermediaries. They were instrumental in refocusing county services on the best interests of the child. In fact, Diakon was our “ace in the hole” when things looked bleakest, and we can never express just what that meant to us.

And when Diakon learns of similar situations, their dedicated family advocates are always there to help create forever families.

Our lives have been enriched with the gift of two daughters, and we pray that our story encourages each of you to support Diakon as it continues efforts to expand to serve more children and youths at risk.

Moreover, please pray for the forever families who have made a life-changing commitment to a child in need. Pray for the children not yet out of the chaos of neglect, waiting for a foster family to give them love and safety. And pray for those who are considering stepping up, that their “pros/cons” list makes their path clear for them.

Diakon stands on the wall for children at risk.

It is for this that we pray for expansion of Diakon’s resources to provide the foundation and support for forever families. Can you help equip this vital program for its mission? Foster, adopt, volunteer, or give in support—it all makes a tangible difference in the lives of waiting children and youths.

Kenneth G. Mertz, II
Chief Investment Officer at Emerald Advisers, Inc.
Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

Editor’s Note: Ken is participating in the Chef Challenge at the 2016 Dining with Diakon event to raise money for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. You can click here for more information.

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Worth the wait

I always wanted to be a mom; in fact, when I was younger, I knew I would adopt someday. I just always knew.

When I was 25, I decided I would go to an information night for foster-to-adopt; this was with another organization than Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. I was a teacher at this point and ready to be a mother.

The training was quick and painless and I was approved. But, if you foster or adopt, you will quickly learn that waiting is part of the experience.

Following approval, I said yes to foster-parenting a girl, but was not selected. Before long, however, I was asked to provide a home for a 15-month-old girl on a foster-to-adopt basis. A few weeks later, the exciting part began and I still recall that day 18 years later: A little girl walking in with her social worker. That was followed, however, 20 minutes later by the toddler’s mother coming by with a different social worker.

I was asked if this was okay. My daughter’s birth mother was young and had not seen her in a while. I agreed; I was new at this and was afraid to say no. But the visit went quickly and painlessly and provided me with the opportunity to meet my child’s birth mother in my home. I knew as well that it would benefit my child to see her two mothers interact in my home. Looking back, I am glad I did this.

In fact, my daughter and I got into the swing of our relationship. She had weekly visits with her birth mom. She always went to her birth mom willingly and always left the visits just as happy. At a young age she understood that she had two moms.

But … I was always waiting for an update, always wondering how long my daughter would stay. Would I adopt her … or would she go back to birth mom?

I think that is probably the hardest part of being a foster parent. You are always waiting.

You wait for the call. You wait for any updates. You wait for court. You wait for termination of parental rights (TPR) or reunification. Luckily, you have things to fill in the wait. You are able to watch a child blossom in your house. You get to bond and create a family. It’s a stressful, yet exciting time.

I was lucky. I had to wait only 10 months for TPR. It was granted by yet again I had to wait—this time for 30 days to see if the birth mother appealed. She did and I went through a year of different appeals, making the time seem like the fastest and longest year I’ve ever experienced. The adoption was finalized just before my daughter’s fourth birthday.

I gave myself a break and enjoyed a quiet life without court dates, social worker visits and everything else that accompanies foster care. I decided that I would try private adoption next, thinking it would be easier. Boy, was I wrong!

Although I was told that as a single mother, I would wait longer because a birth mother, not a social worker, would have to pick me, I waited just three months until news came that my son was born, though seven weeks early. I visited him in the NICU for two weeks, during which time his birth mother left the hospital and could not be found. She had not, however, terminated her parental rights!

But the birth father then said he wanted the child; later, he, too, could not be located. TPR was finally granted on grounds of abandonment—one year later!

My life as a mom of two was great. We went about our day-to-day life and I was enjoying not waiting for court dates and phone calls. Six years later, I gave birth to a daughter. I was now a mom to three! And when my youngest daughter was three years old, I decided to try foster-to-adopt one more time—because I wanted to adopt a boy so that my son could experience having a brother.

I also wanted to take part in an older-child adoption. I wanted to help a child who might not be chosen because of age.

I had heard about Diakon Adoption & Foster Care and contacted the program. From the first call to today, I couldn’t be happier.

All of the people at Diakon have been wonderful and helpful. I went through the training and was ready for the call. But waiting is part of the process; this, I’ve come to know.

While I waited for a boy, I was approached about providing for care for a 12-year-old girl facing several challenges. Diakon needed someone to care for her temporarily while a permanent family was found for her … but, three years later, she is another loved part of my family—adopted.

I now had four children but still felt as if something was missing. I still wanted to adopt a boy.

I went back on the list and was called for a five-year old boy. He stayed with us for four months but had behaviors I could not handle. I felt like such a failure. I knew that I could not give him the help he needed. Diakon was very supportive and helped me during this process and he moved to a home with fewer children. I knew that move was best for him, yet I still found the situation among the more difficult ones I have experienced.

Seven months later, I was called about an 8-year-old boy but he soon returned to his home. I knew that was a possibility in foster-to-adopt, but I was still shocked. Three weeks later, I was called about an 11-year-old boy from a large family. I said yes and headed to his county to pick him up.

The experience changed my life forever.

In fact, I experienced many things for the first time with this placement.

First, I learned how much he missed his siblings. The first night home I said to myself, “I should have taken one of his siblings, too.” I learned how important it can be to try to keep as many siblings together as possible.

Second, I had the wonderful experience of connecting with his birth mother. She has had a hard time in life and needed help and support as much as her children. She truly appreciates all the things foster parents have done for her children. So I learned that if you have the opportunity, you should try to connect with your children’s family. In fact, that connection made the placement so much easier.

Because of the support the mother received, the boy was able to return home in a few months. I was sad to see him go yet so happy for him and his family. They had worked very hard to get back together.

Unfortunately, the situation didn’t last and when I was called about the boy again, I asked to care for one of his siblings so that he wasn’t alone.

So here I am today—a mother of six! I don’t know yet what will happen with the boy and his sister. Will they go home? Will they go to a relative? Or will they stay with me?

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I am always asked by others: How do you do it? How can you sit and wonder each day if these kids will stay or go?

I tell them that it is just part of the foster-to-adopt process. I get through it with lots of support from adoption staff, social workers and others who are going through the same process. I connect with people who are walking the same walk. I use my Diakon staff worker for support. When I am stressed from all the waiting, I reach out to her. She tries to get me information and supports me.

The key to surviving the wait is to surrounding yourself with people who have done the same thing.

But—all this waiting and risk-taking have given me a family! I have grown as a person through these experiences. And I can truly say all of it has been worth the waiting I have done the last 18 years.

If I had to give advice to those just starting the foster-to-adopt process, I would tell them the journey may well be full of highs and lows. I also suggest thinking outside of the box and being flexible. Everyone goes into this with a specific picture of what you want in a family.

However, be open to expand on that picture.

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I also would say to be prepared to be patient. The process can be full of waiting. But it also is full of amazing people who will support you. It is full of children who want to be part of a family. It is full of children who need you for support, love, and safety.

Trust me when I say it is worth the ride.

Stacey
Diakon Adoptive/Foster Care parent

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Always worth it

Adoption has always been something that my husband, Tim, and I knew would be part of how we would build our family. It just didn’t happen exactly as we planned.

Tim and I knew we wanted to have biological children first; later in life, we would adopt. I am a planner—and this was my plan.

What we didn’t expect was that having biological children would be so difficult. After my having had three miscarriages by the age of 22, we decided to see a fertility specialist, who suggested genetic testing. We learned that I had an autoimmune disorder that was likely the cause of the pregnancy losses.

While all of this was occurring, we had begun the process of becoming foster parents with Diakon. We knew we wanted to start our family and we didn’t want to wait.

We received our first placement in February of 2010, a gorgeous little boy who needed a mommy and daddy as badly as we needed him. He was born prematurely, at just 26 weeks’ gestation, and had spent his entire life to that point in a hospital—yet that didn’t affect his amazing and joyful spirit.

Siblings and foster care: the give and take

As the mother of a large family, I am often asked all sorts of questions about doing foster care, but the one posed most frequently is “How do your girls feel about it all?” … followed by, “I am sure it takes away from them, doesn’t it?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

When Jeff and I first considered foster care and adoption, we had many questions and thoughts and scenarios. Foremost, being the birth-parents of four daughters, we were concerned about their safety and happiness. They would be sacrificing a lot as well and that sacrifice wasn’t to be taken lightly. They would share their rooms, their toys, their time and their parents.

How would they feel when a child left? Would they understand it at all? We would bring it up often and always spoke the truth. We didn’t have a lot of the answers to the questions they had—and a lot of the questions they had were the same ones we had.

Shared love: A potential bridge for birth and adoptive parents

Josh and I have been married for 18 years this year. We have five children, three born to us and two adopted; our oldest daughter has a son, so we’re also grandparents!

Josh owns two businesses and I stay at home to homeschool the children; in fact, we’re in our ninth year of homeschooling.

Our first adopted child was placed with us when she was 6 months old and we fostered her for 17 months before the adoption was finalized. Our second child was placed with us when she was 2 days old and we fostered her for 18 months before adopting her.

As you can probably tell, we are a busy, active family! We spend a lot of time with our extended family; in fact, the kids are very close to their cousins.

In the past, there was usually a “distance” kept between birth parent or parents and the foster or adoptive parents, but that is changing in many cases—and we think it’s a great thing, if possible in light of individual circumstances.

We met the birth mother of Izzy (Isabel), our second adopted child, when we took Izzy for her first doctor’s appointment. In fact, I had asked if we could meet Izzy’s birth mother in the hospital when we were being placed with her, but the response was that it was not a good idea. I wish now that I had pushed the idea more because at our first meeting, Izzy’s mom said she felt a little better after having met me.

I can’t imagine how scary and difficult it would be to have your newborn baby placed with “faceless” strangers. I felt it would have given her some peace if she had seen and met us.

In fact, that first meeting went really well!

We connected right away. I had been a little nervous because I didn’t have much information about the case, but had been told there were significant issues in the family. Yet, both parents were always respectful of us, kind and very appreciative of the care we were providing Izzy. She had been sleeping in her baby seat and her birth mother asked if she could hold her.

Helping to make a hard day a little more “bear”able

A few months ago, I brought up the idea to my children to raise enough money for each of us to donate a filled duffel bag to a child in foster care.

You see, most of the children who have come to our home arrived with their items in a garbage bag.

After we decided to take on this project, we shared the idea with friends. We also presented it to our Sunday School program. And what began as a project to gather enough items for six bags turned into an amazing project that raised enough for 37 of them!

Stress management for caregivers during the holidays

Oh no … it’s “the Holidays” already ….

As I reflect on what the holidays mean to me, I dig deep into my heart and find peace and serenity and a sense of joy and family—and then the world and life take over.

The house to decorate, cookies to be made, presents to be bought, cards to be sent—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For those who are caregivers of others, the holidays can become even more of a chore, even something to dread.

In fact, during the holidays, the biggest stressors for many people are relationships, finances and physical demands. It’s therefore important to listen to your body, reflect on the true meaning of the season, and do what makes you happy to keep the holiday period a peaceful season.