Category Archives: Adoption

Because I love him

Guest post by Kelly Treesh. Kelly and her husband Ted have six children, four biological children and two adopted daughters. They have fostered 17 children so far.

A sweet little boy, just 8 years old, came into our care late one night. Daniel was scared, holding tight to an Optimus Prime Transformer toy and a garbage bag that contained just a few of his belongings.  He didn’t have a suitcase, backpack or duffle bag, so a garbage bag held his entire world. This was the case for many of the 17 children we have welcomed to our home over the past four years.

I bent to my knees and asked Daniel if he was scared, and he indicated that he was. He gave me permission to hug him, and it was at that very moment, I fell in love.  I assured Daniel that we would keep him safe and make sure he had anything he needed.

Four of our children were awake with us when we greeted the young boy at our door. My 12-year-old daughter knelt on the ground and asked Daniel if he wanted to play with some toy trucks. Our new family member followed her slowly into the living room where the trucks were waiting for him. All four children played with Daniel while my husband and I spoke with his case manager and then saw her out.

My kids are always beyond excited when a child comes to stay with us. They understand that the children are frightened and scared and try to be gentle and welcoming to them. My kids have sacrificed a lot – time with my husband and me, their space, and their things.

Daniel shared a room with my 10-year-old son, and they grew close during the three months Daniel was with us. Eventually, Daniel was reunited with his sister in another foster home. When I told my son that Daniel would be leaving, I thought he would be happy to have his room to himself again. But instead he began to cry. “I don’t want him to go because I love him,” he said. We lay down together on the bed and cried.

I am very blessed still to be in touch with Daniel’s biological mom. Fortunately, Daniel and his two sisters will be going home to their mother in a week!  We will maintain close contact with the family and serve as a surrogate family to the mom and her sweet children.

Over the years, my daughter and I have developed a ritual when the kids leave. We sit down at the bottom of the stairs and talk about how we hope we made a positive impact in that child’s life.

When any of the kids leave our home, they always take a piece of our hearts with them. However, it is such a beautiful gift given to us when the kids come – THEY enrich OUR lives!

The key

keyGuest post by Sue Redfern, who has fostered more than 100 children since 1992. She has 10 children ages 57 to 21, including three biological children and even adopted children. She and her husband are currently caring for three foster children, a 7 month old who has Down Syndrome, and siblings ages 3 years and 17 months. 

I’m sitting here bouncing a 7 month old on my knee while my 3 year old and 17 month old play with cars on the rug. There have been many children who have been in these same spots before – more than 100 of them.

My favorite part about bringing these kids into my family is when they are able to find forever families. Sometimes it is with me, sometimes with another family, sometimes with their biological family.

There was a little boy in my care who had a dad working so hard to get him back. So hard. He loved that boy, but had fallen on some hard times. He needed help and he was getting it. It warmed my heart to see him running up to his dad and wrap his arms around his neck while his dad told him he loves him so much.

The 4 year old older brother of my 3 year old and 17 month old just left our home to be with his forever family in New York. We are so glad this family is in the process of adopting all the siblings. The 4 year old is blind and requires a forever home near a major medical center. His new family in New York is in a perfect location and both parents have a strong background in caring for children with special needs.

The two remaining siblings and I recently flew up to New York to see the family and older brother. My 3 year old always carries around a photo of his brother – he misses him so much. As soon as he saw him he ran up to him and gave him a huge hug. He did not let go of his hand the entire time we were there. I am overjoyed that they will be able to spend the rest of their lives together.

Wonderful reunifications and adoptions like these remind me that I am making a difference in each of these children’s lives. We can’t give up. We have to keep going to help these kids. Foster parents are the key to their futures.

Hello Kitty

Guest post by Keith Best, a foster parent and Southern Regional vice president of the Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association.

Party time!

Party time!

Our house looked like Hello Kitty had attacked it. Hello Kitty table cloths, center pieces, balloons, banners, a custom cake, and everything was pink! It was the day of my foster daughter’s 7th birthday party.

The party literally became a family affair. We try to help the kids in our care keep a connection with their biological families. It isn’t always possible, but we try. Siblings need to see each other; they like to be able to see that everyone is ok and in a good situation. In my foster daughter’s case, this included inviting all eight of her siblings, who were in care with two other foster families, and her birth mother. The mom was actually the one who brought all the decorations and we were so glad she was able to attend. This was in addition to my foster daughter’s many school friends, other foster families, etc.  – we had about 40 people there!

My foster daughter hadn’t seen her 15-year-old sister in a very long time and was overjoyed when she saw her walk in the door. She ran over to her, grabbed her hand and didn’t let go for the whole party. She dragged her around introducing her to everyone – “This is my sister!” she would tell them VERY enthusiastically. I thought my heart was going to melt.

Every child that comes into our home is seen as a part of our family, which includes celebrating their birthdays just as we would our biological children’s. They are isolated from their friends and family and need us to be there for them during their time with us – my biological children are more than happy to fill that role. There are many afternoons that all the kids just hang out, have nerf gun and ball fun in our back yard, and build forts in the living room.

It is nice to have a BFF with you right in your house. It makes every day a party!

Mother’s Day is a Hard Day

Blog post by Kristen Bolander, a foster, adoptive and biological mom in North Florida. 

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Kristen and the kiddos on an adventure (kids’ faces hidden for privacy).

I’m not a holiday person. I’m not an anti-holiday person, but I’m not one to get all hyped up and in the spirit. Mother’s Day is no exception to my holiday feelings. I pretty much expect it to be like any other day, except that I get to choose what restaurant we go to (why didn’t I marry a man who can cook?!) and the kids present me with a gift. Then our day goes on like a normal Sunday.

But for many mothers who have their children in state custody it’s a hard, hard day. I could not imagine being without my kids on Mother’s Day.  I know, I know, some of you mothers go off to a spa for a day by yourself, but then you come home … to your children.

When we have foster children in our home, Mother’s Day takes on a different role. I’m not the only mother in their lives. My adopted kids are young and are just now having to deal with the intricate emotional details of “you can love more than one mommy.”

The issue has been more in my head. When I look at my children and think about how I am responsible for them, and every one of those overwhelming parenting feelings is overcoming me, I also have to think about the “other” mother. The one who gave birth, the mother who lost her children, the woman who is working as hard as she can to get them back, the woman whose addictions have taken over and are stronger than her, the mother who is in jail, the mother who neglected her children because that’s the way she was raised, the mother who shook her baby after hours of crying.

It’s hard to not have venom in you when you think of those women. Sometimes when I think about what children in foster care have been through I find myself wishing death, or worse, on people I have never met. But then you get a call for a child, welcome them into your home and you finally get to meet one of these women. They are no longer just a story you heard about, they are a broken person, someone whose soul hurts for their children. It’s easy to assume a mother does not love her child if she allowed these terrible things to happen, but from what I have seen that is not always true. (Though sometimes it is true, and sometimes it’s hard to tell based on their actions.) These women do love their children, even if it’s not in the same way that we would love them.

We forget that foster care is supposed to be a temporary situation while a parent gets back on their feet, that it’s our job to support these parents during their darkest hours and remind them why the fight is worth it. It’s hard when you feel like you can give this child a better life, but even when we feel this way it doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing to do. How difficult would it be to be judged at your worse parenting moment, to have people believe that they can do better than you to raise your own child? I have had a lot of bad parenting moments and I judge myself hard enough about them, I could not imagine an entire team of people going through everything I have ever done telling me I didn’t do well enough.

Mother’s Day is a hard day for these women. They have to acknowledge that their house is empty because of a series of choices that they made. So before Mother’s Day, I prepare a gift for biological mothers for the children to take to their visits. Often times I do not know much about these women except what I find out through other people, so I keep it to a photo album, a Starbucks gift card, chocolate and handprints. I am taking back Mother’s Day for these women, giving them hope and power in themselves. I write a note on how the kids are doing in their activities, how excited they are to show them their gift, how we continue to pray for them and pray for a swift reunification. I try to keep our communication positive and encouraging. Honestly, I may be the only positive person they have in their life. Being withholding isn’t going to do anyone any favors. That is their child, give them some pictures and show them their children are being cared for. If nothing else comes out of it, if termination of parental rights happens, at least they can rest assured that their children are happy and healthy. That’s what I want for my kids, no matter where they are, for them to be happy and healthy.

When it comes time to address the issues of how the kids can love more than one mom, even one they haven’t seen in years, we will address it the same way we do everything, positively but honestly: “I cannot sugar-coat the choices your mother made, but I can tell you how much she loved getting gifts when you went on a visit.  Her eyes lit up when she looked through the scrapbook we made for her. She told me that it was the best Mother’s Day gift she had ever received. No, she was not able to overcome her demons, and I’m sorry for that, I wish she could have, but we can pray for her, because it’s never too late for her to change, even if it is too late for her to be a part of your life right now.

Changing Course

Guest post by Brandon Clayton. A Leon County teacher for 11 years, currently teaching at Bond Elementary School. Mr. Clayton was the 2013-2014 Leon County Glenn-Howell Distinguished Educator of the Year. He is also the vice president of the Tallahassee Area Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.

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Eight years ago, one of my third grade students went into foster care. I wanted to do everything in my power to help him through this tough time. As an educator, I believe I can change the course of a child’s life through helping him/her identify strengths that can be used to achieve success. I am sensitive to the needs of all children especially those who are involved with the child welfare system.

Based on my experiences, here are some ways educators can help children in their classrooms who are in foster care:

 

BE PATIENT. Understand that the child has been through a lot, but this does not give them an excuse to get out of work or misbehave. I had a new student once who had severe issues going on in his home and he was having trouble with his school work, specifically reading. When it was his turn to read aloud in class, he refused, threw the book across the room and slammed his chair back. I immediately realized this outburst was not to cause trouble – this kid was very embarrassed and he needed my support. For the next few weeks I alternated working with him individually and pairing him with a student in my class who was a strong reader. I made it very clear to him that this was not an on-going arrangement – very soon he would be reading aloud by himself just like the other students. This process gave him the self confidence he needed and over a period of time, his reading skills greatly improved.

BE MINDFUL OF THE HOLIDAYS. Holidays can be a strong reminder for some kids that they are not with their biological families. While some children may want to be with their families during the holidays, for some children the holidays may be an emotional trigger bringing them back to a time of severe abuse or neglect. Be especially sensitive during these times.

brandon1 - 2BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. Create moments that allow you to connect with the child. You have to develop relationships with the kids so they know they can trust you and open up to you. Pull them aside to talk during lunch time, before or after school, or in between classes. Let them know you are there for them. Often times, your time and just acknowledging that you know they are going through something is the comfort they need. Even if the child does open up to you they may not ever be at a point where they want to share their story with you, but just knowing you are there for them makes a big difference in their lives. Sometimes all they need is a hug.

brandon9 - 3The third grade student in my class eight years ago inspired me to become a foster parent. I knew I could make a difference outside of the classroom just like I was doing at school. I met my wife Natalie, a managing attorney for the Department of Children and Families Children’s Legal Services, because she was a fellow foster parent. Fostering Florida’s youth has continued into our marriage as we have learned that much can be accomplished for children by a single parent, but having a partner in this work is a true blessing!  We plan to continue expanding our family through fostering, as every child who comes into our home becomes ‘family’ despite where they end up going. Eventually we plan to adopt in order to give youth the forever family they need and deserve.

Here’s a video of the fostering story I shared when I won the 2014 Leon County Teacher of the Year: