Every child deserves an advocate
AJ came into our home Dec. 14 of last year, so it wasn’t quite yet Christmas, but he was our most wonderful gift nonetheless.
In fact, he had claimed a place in our hearts even before he arrived in our home.
My husband, Alan, and I were open to fostering a child with mild needs. Our two oldest children have epilepsy and we have seen firsthand the importance of parent advocacy. However, we didn’t want to take on too much.
Then came AJ. He is a medically fragile child with cystic fibrosis who was born very prematurely and has a gastric tube.
AJ, 3, lived in the hospital until he came to live with us at our home in New Freedom, York County. It was heartbreaking.
Hospital staff took wonderful care of him and gave him a lot of attention, but the people around him were coming and going on 12-hour shifts. As a pediatric nurse, I know what that’s like. You love the kids, but you’re not always there. Now he has the same people around him all the time. All the programs in the world are not like family.
I met AJ once in October 2020 and my husband never met him until placement. Once we made the decision to move forward to foster him, Alan, an auto mechanic, became certified in CPR; we also became medically certified foster parents.
We have really great days and days that are really hard, be it from lack of sleep or working with insurance.
Home nursing is important, so that someone stays with AJ when we’re gone, and we were lucky to find a wonderful nurse in early April. AJ is on 20 medications and has 20-minute respiratory treatments twice a day; we also have to monitor and be aware of changes in his reactions.
But it’s all more than worth it. AJ has a wonderful personality and is super-sweet.
Because he had spent his entire life in the hospital, everything is new to him. And he’s doing really well. His language is exploding with so many new words; his vocabulary is amazing. He’s understanding social cues and adjusting to life. And he loves to be outside, especially going on the trampoline at the playground! He also enjoys running errands, such as going to the grocery store, where he is known to greet strangers with a big smile and a “Hi!”
He recently went to one of our daughter’s track meets and he greeted everyone with a smile and said, “Good job!”
AJ is our first foster placement and is truly adored by our entire family, including our four children born to us, ages 17, 15, 13 and almost 12. (Ironically, all of our children have names that begin with A, just as my husband’s does—just another way AJ fits right in.)
Our kids, in fact, played a big part in our decision. Our 15-year-old daughter wanted us to do foster care.
We were looking at international adoption, but a couple in our church was fostering through Diakon, which prompted our daughter to say: “You’re looking all over the world and we have kids in our backyard who need us.”
She had a good point!
Our 17-year-old was kind of resistant at first because he doesn’t like change, but now he and AJ are buddies. Our two middle-school girls are sharing a bedroom so that AJ could have his own room—you don’t often hear of that with girls their age. They all adore him.
Of course, while our children had an important role in our decision, my husband and I felt called to do this.
We became licensed in August 2020, and Diakon has been wonderful every step of the way. We loved working with Heidi Storey, the recruitment and family development specialist with Diakon Adoption & Foster Care in York. Kelly Smith, our caseworker, is wonderful, super helpful and supportive.
Since AJ is from Philadelphia, we had to work with Diakon and the Department of Health in Philadelphia, so it took a long time.
Every child really deserves advocacy on their behalf, and children with medical needs are no different.
As I said, some days are really hard and definitely exhausting, but I hope people are open to learning what they can handle, because it’s so worth it, such as seeing this little boy going into a toy store for the very first time.
AJ is a member of our family in every way and we will adopt him if he becomes available for adoption.
~ Lauren Umstead, Diakon Foster Parent