“There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.” The National Adoption Center
I have this quote taped to my desk at work. I believe it to be true; however, it can get discouraging when children end up growing up in the system because families are not found. There is a push for placing with relatives and for searching out extended family members who may not even be aware that children have entered custody. I agree that this should be a priority when it comes to finding relatives for children who have lingered in care for too many years. Sadly, it does not always happen for them. I know of several children who came into care at age 10 and exited out at age 18-21. Basically, they grew up belonging to a system, but not a family.
Then, there are those stories that are so incredibly encouraging, and remind me that “we” (meaning those in the field) should never give up on finding permanent families for children. I know of children who came into care between the ages of 9-12, their biological parents rights were terminated, and they lingered in the system for several years until meeting that one family that made all the difference.
When I did direct case management work I had a girl on my case load who came into care at age 9. She spent several years wandering between foster homes, disrupting out of some, being promised adoption by others, but never really connecting with any of them. One day though, that all changed. She met a young set of foster parents who provided respite for her. Their connection was almost instant.
A few months after she moved in, the foster mom called me and told me that this girl was making infant noises at the table and asking the mom to feed her with a baby spoon. The foster mom was not panicked, but wanted to understand why this teenage girl would do this. I suggested (I’m no expert) that perhaps it is because this girl had always been the mom to her younger siblings. She never had the chance to be mothered. I offered that the foster mom should just “go with it” for a few more weeks to see if it subsides. Sure enough, a week or so later, the girl stopped doing this and went back to feeding herself like a 15-year-old should. Her foster family adopted her right before her 16th birthday. Instead of moving from one family to another, she stayed with a family of her own.
Another situation I know of involved a foster family who desperately wanted to adopt a little girl between the ages of 0-3. They had been matched with a little one, but that situation did not work out for them for several reasons. I had sent out a profile of a 15-year-old girl who had been in care for a few years. She was bright and wanted to attend college, but truthfully, the odds were against if she stayed in the system much longer.
After reading her profile, the foster family called me and asked to learn more about her. Imagine my surprise when they inquired about her! I think I needed to clarify that she was 15 years and not 15 months old! After meeting her and being interviewed by the professional team, the foster dad called and said words that have stayed with me for years.
“Caroline, we may not have bought her first Easter dress, or been around for her first Christmas, but we realize that there are many firsts that we can give her. I will be the first father she has ever had.”
This conversation is one of those nuggets of goodness that I hold on to while working in child welfare. They did go on to adopt her and the last I heard, she was doing extremely well in school and preparing to look at colleges. Her dreams are being realized because of one found family.
I have said over and over again throughout my career in child welfare that “it only takes one family”, and I believe this. This is the reason why the quote from the National Adoption Center is pasted on to my desk at work. Part of my job responsibilities is to forward profiles of foster children in need of adoptive homes to families who are hoping to adopt. Just this week, I have already forwarded around 5 or so profiles. As I do this, I think to myself “it only takes one family.”
One family can make the difference in the life of a child. One family can provide the soil to which a child can lay down roots. One family can offer the encouragement and structure needed that will start the child on his or her path to college or a career. One family can show by actions and words what it feels like to be a part of a healthy home. One family can help to break generational cycles of abuse and neglect. In the same tone, one family can potentially make a generational change in the lives of children. And, one family can model the grace, love, and acceptance that we all long for.