Tag: Foster Care

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.

Caring for the medically fragile: Still just a child who needs a loving home

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.

The chance to change a life

Janice and her husband, Will, recently adopted a brother and sister, ages 13 and 16 respectively. She shares her thoughts and a few lessons she’s learned about first fostering and then adopting teenagers.

I always wanted to adopt. My best friend growing up was adopted and when I was dating my husband, I told him I wanted to adopt. Luckily, he was on board.

I was particularly interested in adopting siblings. I had heard stories about siblings being separated when adopted and thought how sad that is and how terrifying it must be for them. They were just taken away from everything and everyone they know and then to lose their last connection.

When we were ready to adopt, we went to an information session provided by Diakon Adoption & Foster Care.

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.

Foster-To-Adopt: God Knew My Heart Needed You

In this post, Lydia Carfagno, an adoptive parent, shares her difficult two-year journey that led to one of the greatest joys of her life—motherhood. She adopted her now-4-year-old son, Trevor, through Diakon Adoption & Foster Care’s legal-risk (foster-to-adopt) program. Legal-risk placements involve children and youths who are in the custody of a county’s children and youth services. Children are placed in foster homes with the intent of reuniting them with their birth families; however, if that does not occur, the foster family often seeks to adopt the child or youth.

Why Foster-To-Adopt?

As I was growing up, my mother worked and volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center. As a small child, I witnessed my mother counseling women and providing them with the necessary resources to maintain their pregnancy. When I was young, I would tell my mother that I wanted to grow up and take care of babies that did not have mommies and open my own orphanage. I remember frequently checking our front door to see if someone left me a baby to care for!

Fast forward: I grew up and obtained a college degree in recreational therapy. As a therapist, I worked in various pediatric hospitals. Throughout my work experience, I witnessed firsthand many children suffering from neglect, abuse and trauma. Each of these children made my desire to adopt grow even stronger; however I knew I was not currently in the position to do that.

Upon marrying, adoption was something we always said we would do “one day.” We struggled to get pregnant and even experienced a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. The topic of adoption that was once on the back burner quickly became a burning desire in my heart.

It was something I believed had to happen immediately. Because of my experience in the health-care field, I was aware of “foster-to-adopt” type programs and I quickly began researching agencies.

Why Diakon?

In March 2015 we decided to take the leap into fostering and adopting. The only thing left to do was pick an agency. A lot of prayer and discussion went into our decision to begin this journey.

We had just started attending a new church. The Sunday after we made our decision, the message was about foster care and adoption. Numerous families shared their journeys that morning. My husband and I felt as if God was truly speaking to us and giving us the extra push that we needed.

As I was leaving church, I went to grab my coat off the coat rack; directly above my coat was a flyer for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care.. I pointed it out to my husband and we both took it as God pointing us in the direction we needed to go. We went through Diakon’s training sessions in April and May 2015, completed our home study in June 2015 and Trevor was placed with us in September 2015.

What was it like the moment you first saw your son?

On Sept. 18, 2015, we made the best, yet scariest, decision of our lives. My husband and I were both at work when we received a phone call from the agency regarding an emergency placement. The phone call came around 12:30 p.m. We both rushed out of work to attempt to prepare ourselves for Trevor’s arrival, but all we really did was pace until Trevor arrived in our driveway at 3 p.m. in the children and youth worker’s vehicle. As they pulled in, we could hear Trevor in the back attempting to talk. It was evident right away that he had some speech delays.

My first glimpse of him, I thought: “Wow, you’re a big guy, yet so unhealthy-looking.” We were advised by the caseworkers that we should bathe him immediately. Trevor was immediately captivated by our pets and the few toys we had. I quickly coaxed him into the bathtub, which I ended up draining and refilling three times. We had to stop him from drinking the bath water and sucking water out of the wash cloth. This is also when we discovered bedbug bites all over his little body.

Although appearing confused, Trevor engaged with us immediately. He had absolutely no verbal language skills and resorted to pointing and gesturing his wants and needs. After bathing him, we dressed him (I had some 18-month clothing) and went to a department store.

I remember on the drive there thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” We knew absolutely nothing about this little human. We had no idea what he liked, disliked or feared. We didn’t even know his medical history or if he was allergic to anything. We wandered through the store for about an hour-and-a-half putting anything he pointed to in the cart. As “crazy” as it probably looked to others, it all felt perfectly right.

What health obstacles did Trevor face?

It quickly became apparent that Trevor had social-emotional, developmental and health concerns. Some were easily noticeable to the lay person; however, coming from the medical field, I knew there were deeper underlying neurological challenges.

Our first obstacle to tackle was Trevor’s limited communication. He would become terribly frustrated (rightfully so) when he was not able to express himself. We immediately started teaching him basic sign language. We also set up evaluations with Early Intervention, pediatricians and various other specialists.

In addition to Trevor’s developmental delays, he had asthma (which had gone untreated) and required multiple surgeries because of medical neglect. Trevor’s days were quickly filled with various doctor and therapy appointments. Trevor made tremendous gains medically and developmentally once he was receiving all the needed services.

What prepared you for Trevor’s health issues?

As teens and young adults, my husband and I worked with individuals with special needs.

It quickly became apparent that God was using these experiences to prepare us both (years later) for Trevor. Not only did we have some experience, but our support system also did. My mom and my husband’s parents are special education teachers. This is not to say we knew exactly what we were doing. There was still a lot to learn, and a lot of scary, uncertain times. Again, this is when our faith came in to play. Trevor had his own prayer team of more than 100 people praying for him daily.

How did you cope with biological family visits?

Visits with Trevor’s birth family were definitely the most difficult part of our journey. We made a point of communicating with them as much as possible. At the start of this process, both of Trevor’s birth parents were incarcerated. Initially, Trevor visited them in jail every other week.
Once they were no longer incarcerated, Trevor visited with them at a supervised location and then eventually visits became unsupervised. This was particularly difficult as we had very little information as to what was occurring during visits. We created a communication book that we would write to one another in.

Unfortunately, Trevor’s birth parents were unable to provide stable caregiving. As with all children in foster care, the county sought other biological family members as a resource for Trevor. This process was terribly difficult because we had become so bonded with Trevor, and he was terrified to leave us. Our Diakon caseworker, the various health professionals Trevor saw regularly and Trevor’s prayer team were our support and advocates.

What is your best advice for someone looking to foster-to-adopt?

Almost everyone we come in contact with has made the statement, “I could never do what you are doing”’ or “You are better than me; I could never do what you are doing because I would get too attached.” Initially, it was difficult to find a response to statements like this.

Now, I typically respond with “I never said I could do it, but I said I would do it.” I am constantly reminding myself that God does not call the equipped; He equips those who are called. This journey has been one of the most terrifying and challenging experiences of my life. We fought for Trevor’s best interests for 689 days.

We were assigned this mountain to show others that it can be moved.

I know there are other men and women out there who have a deep desire to foster and adopt. Do not let fear and uncertainty stop you from fulfilling your calling. These children need love more than anyone’s need to protect his or her heart. No one should be afraid to grieve. What they should be afraid of is what happens to these children if no one takes the risk to love them.

Do you have any regrets?

Was our journey easy? Absolutely not! The past two years have been long, messy, hard and filled with grief. However, the day Trevor came into my life I knew what my purpose was. I promised him that day, and every day after, to love and protect him with everything I have.

Trevor has shown me a part of me that I did not even know existed. The day I became his mother (or “foster mom”) my life was forever changed. I found strength and grit inside me that I did not know was even possible. Sometimes God will put a Goliath in your life for you to find the David within you. God knew my heart needed Trevor. Trevor is without a doubt worth it all!

What does the future hold now that Trevor is officially your son?

Trevor is the most strong, brave and resilient little boy I have ever met. Although there are still a lot of unknowns in Trevor’s future because of the trauma and neglect he experienced at a young age, I truly believe he will overcome any obstacle he faces.

He entered our home a nervous, timid, unhealthy toddler and today he is full of spunk and joy. He loves to explore and experience all life has to offer. He is compassionate and intelligent and has just about everyone he meets wrapped around his little finger. The future for Trevor is limitless. God has great plans in store for him.

Trevor’s adoption occurred just recently so we are still in the process of figuring out what life is like without court, paperwork, caseworker visits and the dark cloud of the question, “will he stay forever?” hanging over our heads.

We are certainly enjoying our new forever family and cannot wait to see what God has planned for the three of us.

—Lydia Carfagno

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Going the extra mile

This blog shares the story of how Diakon Adoption & Foster Care staff members went the extra mile to help adoptees participate in Girls on the Run®, a non-profit program that inspires girls to recognize their inner strengths and celebrate what makes them unique.

As an affiliate council of Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries, Girls on the Run – Lehigh Valley delivers sessions involving 10 weeks of dynamic discussions, activities and running games for girls in third through fifth grades, with each season concluding with a celebratory 5K event, completed by participants and “running buddies.”

 

JoAnn Carter, mother of two adoptive girls (Daysia 11, Jada 9)

My interest in Girls on the Run began when my girls brought home a flyer from Parkway Manor elementary school announcing the program. I thought it would get them off the couch and give them a well-rounded opportunity that teaches them confidence. I also thought it would be great to have the girls be part of a running team.

Earlier in the year, my oldest did very well running a Turkey Trot event. Even though my little one hates to exercise and was a little apprehensive at first, she ended up loving the program.

As parents, my husband and I supported the girls throughout the program. We provided nutritional snacks and even made cheese-stick and pretzel treats that looked like little scooters. But when it came to finding the girls a running buddy, we didn’t have anyone lined up for them.

Because the local council is sponsored by Diakon, and I adopted my girls from Diakon, I thought maybe the organization could help. I talked with the Girls on the Run program coordinator, who in turn reached out to Kathy Roach, executive director of Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. She asked for running buddy volunteers for the girls.

Crystal Wanamaker, who served as our caseworker during the foster and adoption process, felt she could not do the run, so she asked two of her co-workers, who are runners, to help out. They happily agreed.

Kristina Taylor ran with Daysia and Melissa Mulero ran with Jada. Crystal attended the event to support the girls and her co-workers, which I thought was really neat. The adoption was finalized in 2012, so the girls hadn’t seen her in a while. They were excited to see her, which added to the experience.

The race was wonderful. I was very proud of the girls. I lost my father in October, so the girls were running for their Pop and grandmother. They gave it their best shot and when they wanted to give up, they kept on going.

The support of their Diakon running buddies made this event even more memorable. They say it takes a village to raise children. It was so nice to see that Diakon continues to be a part “of the village” long after the adoption process is finished.

 

 

 

Crystal Wanamaker, Diakon’s Foster and Adoption Case Manager

As a case manager, I was involved with this family’s life for more than two years. I saw them on a routine basis, so when Kathy Roach emailed me about this opportunity, I was so happy. This is an emotional job, and I love it when parents keep us updated and involved in their lives.

The night of the event, I was at the finish line. I couldn’t believe how many people were there. The girls actually had multiple running buddies, so it was wonderful to see the outpouring of love and support for them.

Watching the girls and my co-workers cross the finish line was very exciting. I am so thankful that Diakon was able to be part of the event. For so long, I was the girls’ “constant.” They knew they could turn to me during a difficult time in their lives. They recognize that I am still here for them today. It means so much to me and I think it means a lot to them too.

Melissa Mulero, Running Buddy and Diakon’s Case Manager

Since I do run, I thought it was a great opportunity to be part of the program. The day of the race, which was held at the Lehigh Parkway in Allentown, Kristina and I met the girls to spend time with them before the race. The event hosted special activities that the girls could do. Both Daysia and Jada were very excited to temporarily color their hair all different colors and to apply temporary tattoos. We also met with the coaches of the team and the girls’ teachers—Mrs. Breinich and Mrs. Richenaker, who also were the girls’ running buddies. Together, we enjoyed watching a “mascot run” before the race.

During the actual 5K event, I ran with Jada in the third wave. Throughout the race, she sprinted then walked. I kept encouraging her, telling her that she was doing great and we are almost there. Her other running buddy, her school teacher, also encouraged her.

Before the race, Jada told us that her running time was 53 minutes for 3.1 miles. The most memorable part of the event was seeing her facial expression when she checked her time and realized that she had clocked in at under 52 minutes! She was ecstatic!

When I think of all the struggles these girls went through, and to see how they have bounced back, it makes me happy. I loved seeing them put forth so much effort into a wonderful program. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Kristina Taylor, Running Buddy & Diakon’s Family Support Specialist

What a cool experience to see everyone come together and run in the heat! I didn’t know what to expect, so when I arrived, I was taken aback by the magnitude of the event. There were tons of volunteers and parents. It was neat to see the community as a whole coming together. I am so glad for the opportunity to be part of it.

My runner, Daysia, was like a little gazelle. She would sprint, then slow down. We really balanced each other out—we were like a “see-saw.” When she was slow, I encouraged her. When I was slow, she did the same for me. Together, we pushed ourselves to the finish line. Daysia sprinted the entire length of the finish line and she had a huge smile on her face. I was so proud of her. It was awesome.

Girls on the Run is more important now more than ever. With schools cutting physical education budgets and social media adding to self-image pressures, it is wonderful to have an event like this. The girls learn it’s not about finishing first. It is about feeling good about yourself.  It’s about learning healthy habits that improve your well-being.

I played field hockey in college. I have always had the mentality to stay motivated and never give up. The Girls on the Run program teaches girls to believe in themselves and to learn from even the toughest situation. Even if you are not the first or best, it’s about coming together and staying positive for one another. Our world needs more programs like this!

I’ve been at Diakon for nearly 4 years. I knew about the program, but had never helped because I am so busy. I never took the time to step out of my comfort zone. Now that I have seen the event and witnessed how Girls on the Run touches the lives of girls—including the lives of our adoptees—I want to help even more.

I understand the obstacles Daysia and Jada have faced. To see where they are today is so sweet. I feel as if I was part of their family from the beginning. I enjoyed it as much as the family. It was so rewarding. I am already looking forward to next year’s event.

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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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