Category: Foster Care System

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

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.

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.

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Foster child: A hero in our midst

David is a hero and an inspiration to us.

We welcomed him into our family last year through foster care and he quickly became fond of our four ducks, including our only female, Limpy.

One cold winter day we received a lot of rain and the nearby creek was about two feet deep and running very fast. When the ducks went out to walk around under David’s supervision, Limpy decided to go into the rapids, which quickly swept her tumbling downstream.

David immediately went into action.

He ran alongside her, jumped into the creek and retrieved her before she went into the Mahoning Creek—which would have meant certain death to the duck.

He then yelled for me to come out of the house. I ran out to see him with the duck in his hands—and ice on his snow-pants and gloves. As he told me what happened, I could tell that Limpy was hypothermic and dying. We took her to the basement, where it was warm, and wrapped her in a towel. I thought she was a goner.

David stayed by her side that night.

The next morning, Limpy stood and quacked a little. We gave her food and water but she still wouldn’t eat. David suggested that she might be missing the other ducks, so we brought them all in—and it worked! She seemed happy and ate well. Within a week, she was much better and we let them all back outside again.

Since then, Limpy allows David to hold her and carry her around. You can see the love in her eyes for him.

When David first came here, he wanted to be a farmer. Now, he wants to be a vet so he can take care of animals.

We are very proud of his bravery and kind heart and are so glad he is part of our family!


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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.

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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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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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!

Celebrating new forever families!

We are delighted to share this question-and-answer blog post with Diakon Adoption & Foster Care Case Manager Crystal Wanamaker about the recent adoptions of a large sibling group:

When did you meet the children?

I met Jayden, Ricardo Jr., and Mya the day they were referred to our agency, which was July 23, 2010. I met Ruby on Jan. 17, 2012. She was placed with her siblings two days after she was born. Jayden and Ricardo Jr. are 6-year-old twins, Mya is 5 years old and Ruby is 3 years old. The boys were adopted by the Rivera family, the girls by the Saylor family.