Cayden Roth, 12, launched a fundraising campaign from mid-January to mid-February, netting $2,000 for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care and the Diakon Youth Scholarship fund.
Cayden was placed with his forever family, Lori and Stephen Roth, through Diakonat 13 months; his adoption was finalized in 2011.
“Cayden has a history of fundraising for our program and donating other supplies to our children in care,” says Joyce Riche, M.A., director of permanency services at Diakon Adoption & Foster Care’s Topton office.
In commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of his adoption finalization, Cayden had wanted to donate some of his own money to Diakon. He and his mother discussed the idea and decided that if he invested some of his own money, he could make enough to donate even more. So he used $250 to buy 25 signs. He sold all of them, for a total of $500, within a half-hour of his initial Facebook post. He then bought 100 more to sell. Cayden did most of the delivery and installation of the signs himself. The signs proclaimed: “You Are Loved – Happy Valentine’s Day!” and “Foster Love” with a pair of cupids.
Recently, Scott Habecker, Diakon president/CEO, hosted Cayden and his mother for a thank-you lunch. Below, Cayden recounts their discussion.
One of the good things Scott and I talked about was the importance of stewardship. When you’re in charge of collecting money to help someone else, you have to be mindful that most of the money collected goes to help who you want to help.
In Pennsylvania, there are more children and youths with special needs waiting to be adopted than children adopted through traditional programs. Yet the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a lot of support in place, from financial assistance to continuing advocacy and counseling to help make these adoptions not only feasible but also extremely rewarding.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.