Giving Children New Opportunities with Fostering /Adopting
May 26, 2018 11:00AM
By Enjoy Magazine
It's About a Child
By Natalie Caudle
FOR MANY, a family’s first moments are peppered with photographs and sweet hellos as the swaddled bundle of joy is gleefully embraced. But for others, their family story begins in a stale government office, with signatures and sweaty palms, where the first minutes are anxious and awkward. Some families meet in the dark of night with a desperate phone call and a knock on the door. The beginnings are fractured and sorrowful as biological families are broken. But as narratives of adoption and fostering have been written over the lives of countless families, children have been given new stories and the opportunity to tangibly experience relentless love.
Children of all ages and backgrounds can be found in the foster system – more than 600,000 each year in the United States. Children enter foster care for a variety of reasons, but ultimately it is the result of their living environment no longer being safe or available. Biological parents may have been found temporarily unfit to parent. Often, a child only needs a temporary placement while an extended family member is located. The scenarios that bring a child to the foster system are often heartbreaking and filled with trauma and loss.
Older children, sibling groups and boys are often more difficult to place, and they remain in the system longer than their younger female counterparts. Jamie Holland planned to adopt two children under age 5 when she received a call about a sibling group of four older children who were in danger of being separated and were considered difficult to place due to their age, sibling group size and ethnicity. “What we envisioned and planned for went out the window quickly,” Holland recalls. “My biggest realization now is that you have to get rid of this picture-perfect idea. It’s rough, but so very worth it. I can’t imagine life without my kids. I can’t imagine how they were considered ‘difficult to place.’” The ultimate goal of foster care is for family reunification, but reunification is sometimes impossible and adoption becomes an available option. Holland’s four children are growing and thriving in their forever home.
The journey for Holland began the same as it does for every foster/adoptive parent, by completing a home study: a full report detailing one’s family, education and parenting style. A home study verifies that state requirements have been fulfilled: criminal, medical and DMV clearances, first aid and CPR certifications, home safety checks, social worker interviews and 18 to 20 hours of classes. Families begin the process with an agency orientation and systematically work through the requirements during a three- to six-month period. “The reason for this thorough assessment is not to look for perfect families,” says Christie Tiede, a social worker for Koinonia Family Services. “It is to ensure that families are ready and well-equipped to provide a safe, loving, consistent environment for a child.”
The requirements can seem overwhelming, but are broken into bite-sized pieces by an agency. “We are able to offer support to our families through our social workers. One is assigned to each family and (someone) is on call after-hours and on weekends so that our families know there is someone available if they need anything,” Tiede says. “We are there to help support families so they can best support and care for the children.”
Foster parents receive financial help from the state to care for the child’s basic needs, as well as medical and dental coverage. Additionally, parents are able to enroll in courses through College of the Sequoias or Fresno State University for ongoing training, covering such topics as cultural differences, child development and laws regarding foster children. Adoption Learning Partners offers online courses to help parents with a grieving child or to prepare siblings for sharing attention and time.
Some families enter the foster system only to foster while others hope a placement will lead to an adoption. Will and Pam Shattuck received 14 children into their home over a five-year period and ultimately adopted five. The Shattucks wholeheartedly threw themselves into the world of fostering and adoption, organizing their home to accommodate more children, purchasing a large passenger van and devoting their time to medical and therapy appointments and social worker visits. “Fost/Adopt had its ups and downs – it can be the best thing and the worst thing you ever do,” Pam says. “But if your heart is to help kids know that they can succeed no matter their circumstances or environment, then this is the place to be.” Despite tough days, the Shattucks found support through their friends and helpful trainings through Aspire, a local agency that provides classes and support groups for parents.
Families can sometimes feel isolated while navigating the world of fostering or adoption and local churches have responded with various ministries and trainings. Radiant Church in Visalia founded its Heritage Ministry in response to the orphan crisis. The ministry began in 2013 due to the efforts of Amber Kanallakan and Lori Riley. Heritage Ministry rallies around families through social gatherings, educational resources, trainings, prayer and by showing up in the day-to-day needs, such as simply providing a casserole to a tired family.
Ultimately, adopting or fostering a child is not about the challenges, it is about a child; a child who is now safe and can grow, who can thrive without fear of hunger or harm. Meredith Toering, an advocate for abandoned children, says, “For each one it matters. We can’t afford to close our eyes. We can’t rewrite the beginning of these stories but we can step straight into the middle and change how it ends. We must.” •
Koinonia Family Services • (559) 635-8926
4008 S. Demaree St. Suite A., Visalia