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OPEN ADOPTION - STRANGE FRIENDSHIPS AND THE URGE TO RUN

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By Kelsey Vander Vliet

Originally posted from BraveLove https://www.bravelove.org/open_adoption_strange_friendships

Open adoption can feel like a strange relationship, and it’s a lot of work. During my pregnancy, I met with the adoptive couple monthly. Each time, we shared a meal and stories and got to know one another.

Throughout these monthly meetings, I grew to love this couple. I picked them to raise my baby, how could I not have love for them? I was sharing one of the most troubling times of my life with them, so of course, we grew close to one another. But were we friends? It felt like it, but I didn’t really know.

Once I gave birth and placed my son with them, they kept me in the loop. In fact, they went above and beyond with updates. Every first he ever had was documented with pictures and videos that they always sent to me. I knew they cared. During calls or visits, they truly wanted to know how I was doing, and I truly wanted to know how they were doing, too! Under all other life circumstances, I would have known for sure that this constitutes a friendship. However, I was hesitant to label it as such because this same thought camped out in the back of my mind,

“If I didn’t place my baby with them, would they care about me?”

This lingering question was the one thing keeping me from calling it a friendship.

I will never know the answer to that question, but at the same time, I will never care to know. My reality is that I DID place my baby with them, and they DO care about me. The reality is that I DO call them my friends, even if our friendship is different than any other friendship I’ve ever had. I am in year two after placement, approaching year three, and they still keep me in the loop. I still get texts, calls, and visits. They still ask me how I’m doing. I pray for them as a family, but also as individuals – just as I do for my other friends.

As time goes on, our relationship changes.

My birth son is older, and so am I. My life has changed dramatically since placement, and while adoption advocacy seems to have encompassed my life, I do have a life outside of my adoption. Sometimes I feel that my natural reaction to this strange friendship is to pull away but I have resisted my urge to run for the hills. My other birth mom friends have voiced the same feelings, wondering if this is a sign that they should close up shop and move on with their lives. What are we holding out for? Our children are fine, right? They’re learning new things, loving their families, and thriving in life.

We can’t get away that easily. What our children need is something that we can’t see yet, and it’s not even guaranteed – but it is a possibility. What my birth son needs from me doesn’t come tomorrow, or the next day. What he needs from me comes years later. Open adoption sometimes makes me like a guest that hangs around long after the party has ended. I have to fight through these reflexes and counterproductive thoughts. This unusual friendship – this open adoption – is hard work… but it’s something I can never give up on.

I will take a break if I need to, but I will always return and get back to work.

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An Empowered Parent

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By Jennifer Thatcher

Foster care has turned my life upside down. Let me start by sharing that I am a single mom and foster parent. I have been fostering children for about a year. Up until a few months ago I was only taking in children under the age of 11. Recently God laid it on my heart to foster teen moms and man, did he open that door quickly because within 2 months I took placement of a teen mom with her 20 month old son.

So here I am, single mom with a teen, pre-teen and toddler. Whoa! The first 2 weeks of having 2 extra bodies in my house was extremely chaotic. I had no idea who was doing what at any given moment. My pre-teen was having melt downs over simple tasks and my foster daughter had no consistency with parenting. I was losing my mind.

 It was amongst the chaos that my sister reminded me that God was not the God of chaos but order. I needed order in this house and fast. I was still trying to build a relationship with my teen mom at the time and trying to not sound like a nagging adult. I didn’t know what to do because I had no time to even be intentional. I was losing my mind. I prayed, during that time of prayer the Holy Spirit revealed to me of a simple question to begin asking myself,  “What can do to help them succeed?” 

I enrolled in City Without Orphans’ Empowered to Connect Parent Training Course right before taking this placement and I soon realized I could gain so many more parenting tools for my household. Implementing Trust Based Relational Intervention has helped me tremendously!

I started writing down chores each day on a dry erase board posted on the fridge with checkboxes next to the task to help them visualize their workload. Checking off each task has been fun for them and given them a sense of accomplishment. I no longer sound like a broken record, asking for things to be done multiple times. I took this idea a step further and began creating a schedule for the toddler and posted it on the fridge for mom to see. Too many task at once, was overwhelming their brains. It has helped gain the consistency we were lacking from day one. I realized that although they didn’t have many chores, they couldn’t see what they needed to get done in an organized manner, so their brains would feel overwhelmed leading them to do nothing.

Through all of this, I have become more mindful. I no longer take it personally when my children get sassy with me as I now realize it is their hormones doing the talking. I use to think to have structure you had to be strict but that is not the case at all. So instead of getting mad, I noticed joking around with them changes their tone. We now have a lot more fun while I maintain control of the situation.

Just 4 weeks after moving in my foster daughter accepted Jesus into her heart and I had the pleasure of baptizing her at our church. God is moving mountains. Our relationships are flourishing. My teen’s parenting is improving. My pre-teen is more content than ever.

Finding ways to help them succeed has also helped me succeed. I am no longer that “nagging, stressed out mom". My house is much happier and healthier.

I have found that being more intentional with my kids and really focus on helping them build a solid foundation rooted in Jesus Christ, it is changing the course of their lives and generations to come.

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I will find a way to accomplish it

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By Gissel

My brother and I went into foster care when I was 9 years old and he was 7 years old. It was a very difficult experience to remember because we wanted to be home with our parents. Unfortunately, by the time they were done investigating my case, my mom had been deported to Mexico. My dad was in Mexico as well, and so my long term stay in foster care began.

I ended up staying in care until I was 17 years old. The time went by quickly because I was constantly moved to different foster homes. I lived in about 10 different homes, it is difficult for me to recall exactly how many. I lived in Victorville at one point, and then back up to the Reedley area and cities in between. Although I moved a lot, I didn’t mind it at the time because some of the homes were not good for us. The foster parents didn’t always care for us, and our social workers didn’t always believe us when we complained.

But getting out of a bad placement was the only way in which moving was helpful. I would become comfortable at one middle school, and then I’d get moved. We’d have to push to stay at a particular home that we did feel comfortable in, but we weren’t always lucky enough to get to stay. A lot of times my brother and I were really well behaved, but our foster parents would say something like “They are too much.” I don’t know what she meant by that. I don’t think she realized how hurtful this statement was, or how hurtful it was that she told us that she really wanted children younger than us. Essentially, we weren’t good enough. At one point, we were removed from a home because the husband wanted to include us in family activities, and his wife did not want us to be included. Even though I was young, I understood what was happening and the implications of what they were saying and what they were fighting about.

One positive aspect that came out of this experience was my relationship with my brother. I’m so thankful I had my brother to be with me while we were in care, it brought us together. We weren’t always able to stay in the same home together and that was really a struggle. But when we were in a home together we became very close.

Changing homes and schools so frequently made it really difficult for me to be successful in school and establish friendships. Finally, I got to stay for at Dinuba high school and I was finally happy to settle in at a school. High school was an escape from home and I focused my energy and attention on school. I think I always knew I wanted to go to college. I always knew I wanted to be someone and that college was the only way to get there.

I learned a lot going through foster care. I had to grow up quickly. I had to learn how to read adults, and how to be responsible. I learned how to view things from a different perspective, and how to understand others. The most important thing was I learned how to be grateful for what I do have, and to appreciate what is really valuable and meaningful in our lives. I really came to appreciate the value of family and the relationship I had with my brother. My time in care made me really appreciate my parents. In fact, It was difficult to adjust to living with them when they came back to the United States. But since I had lost so much time without them I wanted to make sure the time I spent with them was meaningful and I appreciated having them.

When I think about other foster youth it’s hard for me to say what I would tell them. There are so many factors - the support we had, our own way of dealing with things and so on. It’s difficult because when you’re in foster care, you don’t really care about advice, you just want to get through it. I think the best advice I can give to others is to understand where a child is when they are in care. Just be there to support the way they are feeling in the moment – lost, scared, and sad. I found reassurance within myself, and I tried to motivate myself by thinking that God let’s everything happen for a reason. It doesn’t always seem like that, but it’s helped me because I reminded myself that in the end there will be something positive to take away. For me, the positive reasons of being in foster care was that I learned persistence, resiliency, love for my family, and to value the time I had with them. I have a completely different outlook on life, different then what I think I would have had if I had not been in foster care. Now my entire world view and outlook on life has been shaped by the years I spent in foster care.

Another positive aspect to come from being in care was the support I am receiving now in college. It’s possible I could have made it through school without financial aid and support from the NextUp program, but it would have been extremely difficult. I’ve received so much support and that’s allowed me to focus on being the best student I could be. Now I have the opportunity to further my education and make a completely different life for my children. My biggest motivation in school and in life is my children. I will never be able to show them how much I love them because it is much more than anyone imagines and it is something that does not have measurement. All I can say is that I will forever love them and I will always be grateful they are in my life. I just want to give them a better life than I had, and I want to teach them what I learned but without them having to go through the struggles I had to overcome.

I am planning on transferring to Fresno State in Fall 2019. I have plans to get my bachelor’s degree then join the Highway Patrol, and I am currently working on getting an internship with the Reedley Police Department this summer. Eventually I would like to get a master’s degree, and ultimately, I want to get a doctorate as well, but I know that will take time and hard work. My focus will be on psychology, I want to understand why people do what they do, and why they think what they think and what their motivations are. My time in foster care definitely piqued my interest in trying to understand people.

Whatever path I choose to take I feel as long as I set my mind to it I will find a way to accomplish it.

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God is the hero of my story

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By Lamont Nash

My father tried to kill me when I was three. I have memories of the event itself, like nightmares. He tried to drown me in a tub of hot, scalding water. I managed to run away and hide under an abandoned apartment building and several weeks later I was found by a man who called emergency services. An ambulance came and got me. My right leg had third-degree burns, which they repaired with a skin graft from my left leg. I became an orphan. When they couldn't find my mother or my father, I went into foster care.

My experience in foster care was not good. I was physically abused and sexually abused which in turn caused me to run away a lot. Some of the foster parents kept me for the money they received. I got picked on a lot at school for being a foster kid. I bounced around from group home to foster home, again and again. I was in the system until I was 18. And back then they never had aftercare. You were just done.

God didn't come into the picture until later. My foster parents took me to church, but I was forced to go. And I hated being forced to go to church by people who were abusing me. At this point in my life, I believed there was no God. At 15, I tried to take my life by overdosing on Prozac, the very drug they said would help me.

My faith grew when I was 20 and an older man started to mentor me. He didn't know me, but he took me in and did what my foster parents were supposed to do: showed me love and support. He didn't always agree with everything I did, but he supported me through it all. He showed me God's love by coming to pick me up and taking me to church. He found me a stable place to live. He took me to universities and schools and told me, "Lamont, you can have this life too, if you want it." When I did wrong, we talked about it, and when I did well, he praised me for it. He became my father and big brother all in one. He was my family.

The sad reality is that If the Christian community doesn't step forward, the gangs will. Gangs tell a story of "you belong here" which is what every foster kid is looking for. Our gym is a place where foster kids belong. We're a bunch of misfits. When they come in they're going to feel like they're part of our family.

I discovered my love for physical activity when I was eight years old while I was in an abusive foster home. The only thing that I could control (and that kept me sane) in my environment was working out. It helped me release a lot of my stress and anger about being abused at home and being bullied at school. I did run track and field, but most of the time you found me at the playground, running, doing pull-ups, and climbing. My love for play has evolved into my business, the Playground Training Academy. It looks like an urban playground. We have rock climbing, parkour, and ninja-warrior classes for kids and adults.

My newest passion is the Overcomers Foundation. I am working with a team to offer physical fitness classes for foster kids. This is a place where they can come and not only get a chance to work out and play, but be mentored by people who have been in the system themselves. I named it Overcomes because that is what I have done in my life, and I want other foster kids to have the same opportunity. Some of these foster families have multiple kids and they can't afford to put all the kids in different sports. We are working to rally our community to do just that.

These kids need patience and love. They need their parents to understand. Foster parents need to put themselves in these kids shoes for a second. They need to listen to them. Really listen. They need to get these kids involved in physical activity to release some of their pent up energy and emotions.

God is the hero of my story. He saved me from myself. I used to imagine that I would share my story with many people. He has always had people open their doors to meet and treat me like family. And now, I can show his love to other people. The Bible calls us to take care of orphans and I get to stand up for these kids. Jesus paid the price for us and now we’re called to show His love for our community.

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It’s kind of fun to do the impossible

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By DJ Ditto

It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.

My name is DJ Ditto. I will be graduating this next month with my bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a minor in Deaf Studies.

Walt Disney said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible!”, this quote was meant for his rather unique ability to imagine and create things in such detail that most people didn’t. But this quote is important to me because it is what best describes my life.

Growing up I didn’t have the most normal life; my parents were drug addicts all my young life coupled with multiple instances of domestic violence. My dad was in and out of jail growing up, until when I was 12 years old, he passed away due to an overdose on heroin. After his passing it took a huge toll on my family, to the point where my mom was not a good role model in mine and my sibling’s lives. She remained a drug addict, and had multiple boyfriends who also caused domestic violence, but she also turned to alcohol to buffer the emotional pain. Due to all that was going on she lashed out towards me and my siblings through emotional, mental, and physical abuse. Due to the abuse and neglect my younger sister and I went in to the foster care system. From all of this, I have really devoted myself to education and bettering my life so that I don’t turn out like my family. I have the goal of earning a PhD to give back and support special student populations such as Foster Youth, so they too can achieve their goals like I will.

During my time at Fresno State I have met many people who have wanted to continue to see me be successful, these are counselors, professors, and other professional staff. I asked different people to be mentors of mine, so that I would have people with wisdom to look to.

Now, as I said, I’m graduating on May 18th with my bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a minor in Deaf Studies. I will be moving to Chicago in June to attend the Advanced Standing Program at the University of Chicago to earn my master’s in social service administration.

The few important things from all of this that I want other foster youth to know is that: you are in the driver seat of your future, it may be a bit scary, and you won’t have all the answers right away and that’s perfectly normal just remember to reach out and ask for help.

There are plenty of people out there who want to see you be successful, you just have to find them.

Never take no for an answer or let anyone tell you that you can’t do something when it comes to your success. If they do, use it as fuel to propel yourself farther than you or anyone else ever thought you would.

Never take no for an answer or let anyone tell you that you can’t do something when it comes to your success. If they do, use it as fuel to propel yourself farther than you or anyone else ever thought you would.

Lastly, you define your success and your happiness. Never let anyone else tell you what or who you are. You have great potential to be anything you want to be.

A study states that 50% of Foster Youth graduate from high school, 20% enroll in some type of post-secondary education, and less than 5% of Foster Youth earn a bachelor’s degree. So, I think it’s kind of fun to do the impossible.

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Do You Know Who You Are?

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By Dr. Deshunna Monay Ricks

Do you really know who you are? How long did it take you to figure it out? Well, you see, it took me 35 years to figure out who I am. I really do not recall my early childhood years with my mother and father, but I do remember living with my maternal grandmother from age 5-8 because my mother had a drug addiction and my father was running the streets. I do, however, remember the day that my older brother, younger sister and I went into foster care.

I woke-up one spring morning and went to school, happy and cheerfully like any other normal day. When I arrived in my second grade class my teacher asked, “Deshunna, what happened to your eye?” I replied, “My aunt hit with a belt.” My life changed that day in both a positive and negative way. My brother, sister, and I were off to a stranger’s house because my mother was nowhere to be found and my father was in jail.

We were eventually placed with my paternal grandmother where there would be 5 other foster children who happened to be my cousins. Throughout my childhood and teenage years I heard messages like “you’re ugly,” “your mother is a crackhead,” “you’re stupid,” “that’s why your mama don’t want you,” “you’re not good enough,” “you are a failure,” and “you’re never going to be nothing.” Sadly, some of these messages came from myself.

You see, I knew who I wanted to be, I just didn’t know who I was. I allowed these messages to define who I was and it would be those messages that controlled my way of being for a long time. Some of you might be reading this who know me and ask “but you have 3 degrees, how could you think this about yourself?” It does not matter how much education you have, if you do not love yourself nothing and no one else matters.

 Those messages would eventually get worse as the years went on. I dug myself into an emotional hole with my negative thoughts. My negative thoughts and my circumstances led me to hating myself and I was no good to myself and no one else. I had lost my identity—to tell you the truth, I did not know who I was at all. I made decisions and engaged in toxic behaviors because I did not know who I was.

 In September 2018, God spoke to me and told me that I was valuable and that he loved me. Now, I had heard these things before from very close friends; however, I did not believe them. Being in foster care from age 8-18 really did a number on my self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence and I was not aware of how damaging it was until I began to look deeply inside of myself. I had to face the truth of my dark past in order to affirm, proclaim, and walk in my identity.

If you asked the teenage Deshunna who she was back then I would answer “a black girl from west Fresno, who lives with her grandma in foster care, an athlete who takes pride in academics, and one who likes to have fun.” Today if you ask me who I am I would answer, “a light to those who are in darkness, a peculiar phenomenal woman, flavorful, more than a conqueror, beautiful, a trauma survivor, a dedicated mother, intelligent…and the list goes on.” (I would add that I am impatient and judgmental but I am working on those characteristics).

The only reason why my narrative has changed because as I began to learn about the love God has for me I showed myself that same love.

I know who am I and I know why I am here. I exist to help others recognize their true identity through storytelling, self-discovery, and self-reflection so that they can live in wellness and foster wellness in others. I am able to achieve this through my business I Have Value, LLC and through other avenues. I am now living in wellness because I have done the work and will continue to work on myself.

My question to you is “are you ready to discover who you really are?” Are you ready to live well? Are you ready to truly love yourself? You are worth every bit of it.

With Love,

Dr. Deshunna Monay Ricks

CEO/Owner of I Have Value, LLC

ihave-value.org

ihavevalue2018@gmail.com



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Even if the Stats are against you - KEEP MOVING FORWARD

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By Cathleen Fagundes

MY STORY

When I was three, my mother was diagnosed bipolar; and not long after I turned eight, my father passed away. The courts declared my mother unfit to care for her children, which sent my sister and I to the homes of distant relatives to live together, but soon split apart in a series of separate foster homes. Being split from the one person who had gone through everything with me up until that point was very hard, but soon became easier as my guardians filled my thoughts with terrible things of my sister. Before I knew it, I wanted nothing to do with her or my biological mom, due to the negative comments that filled my brain. Over the next four years, the environment with my guardians became more and more mentally and emotionally abusive, pushing me into a really dark place. I began cutting myself and had suicidal thoughts, until I was strong enough to push through and told myself I needed to prevail in order to have a better life. A few months later, when my guardians refused to let me take the SAT and apply to college I spoke up and got my teachers involved. My teachers were super supportive and did everything they could to make sure that I got to a safe place and would be successful. They called CPS and two months later I was placed into formal Foster Care. Being placed into the Foster Care system was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I finally had a stable and supportive placement, where I lived with my high school art teacher and her family.

You can use your past as an excuse, or you can use it to push you forward; I chose to do the latter

MOVING FORWARD

Through the difficult times moving from home to home, educational environments became my stability. If home life was inconsistent, school life was patterned. Raising my hand first, turning in my assignments on time, and sometimes staying after to learn more, I honed my educational skills and eventually graduated high school as valedictorian. Besides recognition for my smarts, good grades also became a way for me to pay for college. I chose to go to Fresno State, and I was accepted into the Smittcamp Family Honors College, which provided me the financial support for a four-year university without the support that parents usually provide.

Even with the odds against me, I strove to push forward and do my very best in everything that I did. As an undergraduate student at Fresno State, I took every opportunity to be involved on campus both academically and with extra curricular activities. Academically, my grades allowed me to be involved on campus through Smittcamp, the College of Arts and Humanities Honors Program, the McNair program, and multiple honors societies including Phi Kappa Phi, and Lambda Pi Eta. My personal background allowed me to be involved on campus through programs like EOP and Renaissance Scholars. As a university student, I lived on campus for three years, worked in the College of Health and Human Services Dean’s Office, took multiple service-learning courses, including international ones in which I was both a student and crew leader for, became a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, and I even served as a Campus Involvement Ambassador for a year.

Outside of the university,  I volunteered my time with numerous organizations that each address a different need or issue.I have volunteered for day events with the CA Fish and Wildlife, Granville Home of Hope, Operation Christmas Child, Kids day, and the Art of Life Cancer Foundation. I spent two summers in Naboutini, Fiji volunteering as part of the Fresno to Fiji service-learning trips. However, there is one area that I have served most of my time in which includes the food insecure/homeless population. Over the past four years, I have volunteered at the Bulldog Pantry, with the Food Insecurity Project at the Newman center, at Poverello House, Fresno Rescue Mission and with the Hot Dog Run. Most recently, I have spent my time volunteering for the Renaissance Scholars Program, a program that supports former foster and homeless youth throughout their college career and has given so much to me over the past four years.

It is because of programs like the Smittcamp Family Honors College, McNair, EOP, and the Renaissance Scholars Program that I have been able to succeed and will be graduating with my Bachelors in Communication and minor in Urban Civic Education within four years. It is because of my involvement within the community and involvement in campus life that I have felt a sense of belonging here at Fresno State. Beyond the walls of the university, I can proudly call myself, a Fresno State Bulldog. I have recently been named the College of Arts and Humanities Dean's Medalist for the 2017 year and I could not be more honored to not only represent my College, but to also represent the prosperity that all Foster Youth are capable of achieving regardless of their past experiences. In the fall, I will be attending the Teachers Education Program at UCLA to earn my Master in Education and Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential with a social justice agenda. I hope to use my experiences in my future career and encourage youth through education showing them that regardless of what is happening at home they have the opportunity to rise above that.

I now use my experience as a VOICE. I want others to know that they are a person, NOT a number and that their story matters. Foster youth are often afraid to tell their stories or to tell their friends that they are in Foster Care, I want to encourage youth to not be afraid of telling their stories or admitting that they are a foster youth. These stories and this label “foster youth” is what makes you who you are and makes you strong. I have used this voice to speak at events like the City Without Orphans “Removed” screening part 2 and the Fresno County Office of Education Foster Youth and Homeless Programs Student Recognition Ceremony in hopes that my voice will be heard and will inspire other youth to step up and use their experiences to make change.

Choice. Chance. Change. You have to make the choice, to take the chance, to make a change.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

  1. Don’t assume

  2. Support and encourage the youth

  3. School of Origin - as a child moves from home to home, they need some stability in their life, and being able to stay at their school of origin can provide the child at least some stability in the chaos of everything else.

  4. CASA - Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate in your hometown, visit: http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5301295/k.BE9A/Home.htm

  5. ADVOCACY!!!

Statistics said one thing, I said another
— Cassandra Alvarez

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The Dunkin Family

Today we are sharing a story that has gone viral because it addresses two important topics:  singles adopting and the needs of sibling sets in foster care.  There are many myths surrounding both of these topics.  If we had a dollar for every time we heard someone say they would love to adopt but they can't because they are single (not true), we would be a fully funded organization! According to statistics from Adopt US Kids, more than 2/3rds of children in foster care are a part of a sibling set.  Enjoy the blog and help us share the Dunkin Family video...

I am Lacey Dunkin, a single mom of six happy, healthy, caring, funny, and beautiful little girls, that just so happen to be adopted from Foster Care. In many ways our story is quite unique but it's also not very different from many other foster-to-adopt stories I know. First of all, I did not set out to adopt six little girls. In fact when I started the certification process, I imagined myself as a mother of little boys, but of course, God had other plans. 

When I got the call for a foster placement of four little girls at close to 10pm towards the end of September 2011, I immediately said "yes".  It was nothing that I had originally wanted, a strictly foster placement, and four kids, yes four! (Am I insane???) But all I heard was "a 5-year-old, 2-year-old twins and a 1-year-old baby," and I agreed.  Initially, I only planned on taking in one or two children who were available for adoption but when I got this call I was compelled to say yes, I still can't quite tell you why. 

Initially I planned on taking in one or two children who were available for adoption but when I got this call I was compelled to say yes, I still can’t quite tell you why.

The next few days were crazy to say the least. I learned that the four girls also had a newborn baby sister who was born the day before I got them, she went to stay with another foster family with more experience than I, and was reunified with their biological mother on Christmas Day 2011. Throughout the nine months that I originally had the girls, I fell in love instantly. I worked hand and hand with their biological parents, often times talking on the phone for hours after a visit to help them navigate this parenting thing and deal with some difficult behaviors the girls were exhibiting. It was hard, these two had not made safe decisions for the girls and a lot of me wanted to be angry at them, wanted to tell them where to go and just shake them! But sometimes you have to put your own pride aside to do what's right for the children. They needed both of us, so we united in order for the girls to get the best of both worlds. 

I often joke that the girls were a "package deal", because I couldn't imagine adopting any of them without their sisters. And when baby number six came along, I immediately knew where she belonged.  It was a tough decision, especially for my dad, but I know that we ultimately made the right decision for our family. If any one of these girls were missing, we'd have a huge gaping hole in our family and our hearts. 

For me, I tried to imagine how it would be had I not grown up with my brother. How would I feel if I knew I had a sibling out there? What worries for him would I have had? How would our lives differ from each other, how would that effect our relationship, would we even have a relationship? When I got the call about baby number six, my family and I had to have a serious discussion whether we were able and/or willing to take on another baby, I knew in my heart she belonged with her sisters, but it was a difficult decision nonetheless. Sophia, who was 7 years old at the time, told my dad, "Papa, she deserves to be able to have a good house and sisters too", and that was it, it was decided that we would "just make it work."

Since sharing our story I've been contacted by so many people, of all ages, sharing with me their stories. I've heard over and over again of children being separated from their siblings, not being able to keep contact with their siblings, and/or knowing they have siblings they've never met. They've told me how hard it was to connect as adults, how it affected them growing up, and how it haunted them their whole lives. It breaks my heart to know that this is still happening daily in our current Foster Care system. 

I understand that not everyone is able to take on six children, I agree, I'm a little nuts, but there is such a need for foster and foster-to-adopt homes willing to welcome a sibling group, as they are some of the hardest placements. And as I've said, it wasn't my plan, but I am so glad that I had the inclination to just say "yes" to four little sweethearts that fateful night 5 years ago. It's changed my world for the better in more ways than I can ever express and brought more happiness than I could have ever imagined when I first started this journey. 

It breaks my heart to know this is still happening daily in our current foster care system.

I have to tell you, it's been such a pleasure to watch my girls re-establish their relationships with each other. Sadly, out of necessity, they were often split up and stayed with various relatives for the early parts of their lives, but they have been able to build such a beautiful bond since coming into my care. Of course, they bicker, and tattle, and complain about each other daily, but they also have such an immense love for each other, it amazes me.  They genuinely care about each other and it does my heart so much good when I hear them tell their sister, "I love you!"  It is truly a blessing to see them grow, to watch them look after each other. Being able to witness their happiness and hear their laughter as the play together, is EVERYTHING. 

If you're already a parent, you know that it's not an easy job. It's not something to jump into blindly, but it also grants the greatest rewards of any other job, hands down. As they say, it takes a village, and I'm so thankful for my village of family and friends who are always ready and willing to jump in when needed. If you're thinking about fostering or adopting more than one child, I suggest you get your village ready too! I honestly couldn't do it without these people, mainly my parents, who "parent" with me daily. 

Above all, I want people to know that I didn't "save" my daughters, they saved me. They've opened up a whole new world of possibilities and love. I have so many hopes for them but mainly I want to instill a love for one another and humanity. I pray they grow up to be happy. If they become happy, healthy, and loving adults, I will have done my job. 
 

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Moving From Belief to Prayer and Action: Kids in Group Homes Need Us

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Moving From Belief to Prayer and Action: Kids in Group Homes Need Us

If any of you follow the work of City Without Orphans, you know that we believe every child belongs in a family. This is one of our most foundational and deeply held convictions. We make t-shirts that say, “every child deserves a place to call home” and “He sets the lonely in families…”. Statistically, biblically and experientially we know this is what's best for kids. 

This isn't just a cute slogan we can wear on a shirt or share on facebook- this is a truth we must actively pray and work for until it becomes reality.  And the need is not just for the “waiting 5 year old” in foster care, it's also for the teenager who has spent 4 years in group homes. Last Fall a bill came out (AB403) that says starting January 1st, 2017 our state will phase out the long term institutional care of group homes to make them short term stabilization centers with the goal of transitioning every youth into a foster family or permanent home.

That’s right…we are going to see a massive need for families to step up and bring older youth into their home.  It sounds great in theory but we know there is a challenging road ahead.  It would be easier if bills like these also came with a strategic plan for each county, a comprehensive marketing effort to rally the community around the cause and robust programs that will provide more support for caregivers.  

Guess what…there is a plan and resources. It’s you…

You Fresno.  You Central Valley.  You have all the resources to help make this happen. We each have a part to play! CWO and many foster/adoption agencies will be sharing more specifics over the next 6 months about how you can leverage your gifts, treasures and time to help this effort. We are going to do our best to stand in the gap for these youth who, by no fault of their own, came into foster care, are struggling and need consistent love, support and services. Now is the time to serious pray and contemplate how you can get involved.  Are you ready to become mentors for them? Foster Parent? Adoptive moms and dads? Employers and coaches?

They need you. We need you.

Stay tuned for more…

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Trans-Racial Adoption (Part 2): An extended conversation about race & adoption

by Taylor Starks

by Taylor Starks

Issues of race and culture remain at the center of many controversial and conflicting conversations within our society. The political, medical and social justice systems tend to highlight significant disparities among minority groups, but our social services sector also displays a grim reality.

The marginalization of minority groups can impact a variety of areas within the social service sector, but has the greatest impact on a very vulnerable population: children in foster care. The foster care system is inundated with children from a variety of backgrounds. Historically, there has been a great disproportionality of African American children who are a part of this system, leaving many to ask the question, “Why?”

In 2014, 64% of African American children who entered the foster care system remained for a period greater than 2 years, with only 7% being adopted. “Why?”

In Fresno, California, many African American children who enter into the foster care system remain for several years before the possibility of adoption or reunification become a reality. In 2014, 64% of African American children who entered the foster care system remained for a period greater than 2 years, with only 7% being adopted. “Why?”

Do statistics like these reflect a heartless society filled with racist thoughts? Not necessarily. One can easily come across this information and harbor resentment for prospective caregivers that further drives the misconceptions of race and culture in our society. The sad reality is that these issues remain unfamiliar to us and when we lack the resources to understand transracial adoption, it becomes a difficult concept to approach with assurance.

We previously met the Jones Family and their 13 year old son Omari. Although the Jones were aware of their commitment to a long-term relationship with Omari, they were unprepared for the many challenges that would appear throughout this journey. Faced with criticism from friends and family who questioned their decision to adopt trans-racially, the Jones’ had to learn how to navigate new territory.

Despite the success found in adoption stories similar to the Jones’, many caregivers remain hesitant and unsure of how to approach this issue. Questions like “what if this child resents me?”, “how do I care for them?”, and “what do they truly need?” create a fear in approaching the unknown, leaving many children in the shadows. It is extremely important to understand that the fear of transracial adoption is not necessarily caused by racist thoughts or a blatant disregard for the hurting. What these statistics reflect is a broken system that lacks an understanding of cultural implications and the personal narrative. In the midst of this chaos, caregivers want to know one thing—“How do I provide intentional care for a child without inciting their experiences with pain and injustice?”

For the Jones this meant creating a balance between two worlds. There was an intentionality about the love and care that was extended to help Omari understand who he is and where he comes from. Things like attending a predominantly black church and being immersed in a diverse community created the space for dialogue and growth within this family. While tough conversations surrounding issues of social justice took place, difficulties were combated with the humor of learning and growing as a family. The Jones knew that things weren’t going to be perfect, but embraced the life long journey they would now share with their son.

The societal barriers of culture and race can leave many caregivers feeling incompetent and defeated in their attempts to take on this task. Excessive re-entry rates of this demographic can lead one to assume that these caregivers made faulty attempts to provide a home for these children, but the truth is that we cannot expect people to excel or have confidence in something that they know little about. The decision to engage in transracial adoption is much more than providing a loving home for a child in need. Transracial adoption comes with a call to engage in broken systems, hurting communities and movements of change.

we cannot expect people to excel or have confidence in something that they know little about

How does one do this? Although this is a great challenge it doesn’t require an orderly procedure or program. Research suggests that while few agencies provide their caregivers with some aspect of cultural training and family mediation, it goes with little use. This is not to say that these trainings aren’t important or shouldn’t be taken advantage of, but caregivers must be willing to take the initiative and put what they are learning into practice.

The Jones’ knew that Omari needed exposure to people who looked like him and shared his experiences. They did more than just talk about these things, they made them a part of their daily lives. The Jones’ knew that there would be awkward moments to be shared with friends and family. They did more than just acknowledge it, they embraced it with humor. The Jones’ knew that Omari would have a hard time navigating a society that would make assumptions about his character on the basis of his skin. They did more than just accepting it, they decided to walk through this battle as a family.

Breaking barriers to transracial adoption is more than just taking African-American children out of a fleeting system and creating permanency. For children who have their identities wrapped up in a broken system, it is important that caregivers validate their experiences by journeying with them through their pain, disappointments, confusion and fears. Caregivers who take on transracial adoption have a special calling to display a compassionate heart to the children they invite into their homes. This compassion doesn’t just acknowledge that their child shares an experience that is different from their own, but seeks to understand how those experiences shape their growing character and daily lives.

Breaking these barriers is challenging work, but it comes with a great reward. It may appear that transracial adoption is filled with nothing but heartache, but the Jones’ narrative shows otherwise. Omari recalled the many great things he has been able to experience with his family through this process. There is great delight in the trips that he has had with his family and the time that he gets to spend exploring the world with his brothers and sisters. Transracial adoption presents an avenue in which individuals can embrace the beauty of diversity and embark on a journey of understanding with one another. Through these experiences families can be transformed and brought together in unique ways. 

The story of the Jones Family has modeled a great passion to care for those in need. It is important that we do not idolize or perceive this family to be a group of heroes, but we should acknowledge their efforts to champion a cause that is challenging and intimidating. The Jones’ story models what compassionate care looks like and how it transforms the life of a family. 

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Breaking Barriers with Trans-Racial Adoption

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Breaking Barriers with Trans-Racial Adoption

By Taylor Starks

Issues of race and culture remain at the center of many controversial and conflicting conversations within our society. The political, medical and social justice systems tend to highlight significant disparities among minority groups, but our social services sector also displays a grim reality.

The marginalization of minority groups impacts a variety of areas within the social service sector, but it has the greatest impact on a very vulnerable population: foster children.

64% of African American children who entered the foster care system remained for a period greater than 2 years...”

The foster care system is inundated with children from a variety of backgrounds.  Historically, there has been a great disproportionality of African American children who are a part of this system, leaving many to ask the question, “Why?” Locally, many African American children who enter into the foster care system remain for several years before the possibility of adoption or reunification become a reality. In 2014, 64% of African American children who entered the foster care system remained for a period greater than 2 years, with only 7% being adopted.

While transracial adoption has proven to be successful, many caregivers are hesitant and unsure of how to approach this issue. Questions like “what if this child resents me?” “how do I care for them?” and “what do they truly need?” create a fear in approaching the unknown, leaving many children in the shadows.

Many caregivers are hesitant and unsure of how to approach this issue

Meet the Jones Family.

The Jones had a desire to love on children regardless of their background, but encountered some challenges in discovering how that love would be manifested in the life of their son Omari. Despite the challenge and the controversy that the adoption of their son caused, they were willing to take on the tough issues, navigate the awkward conversations and seek to provide an undying care for their child. Listen to their story and see how transracial adoption not only transforms the life a child, but the life of an entire family.

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