Tag: adoptive family

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.

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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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.

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.