When my 3-year-old and desperately hungry daughter knocked on neighbors’ doors begging for food, I was 800 miles away at a photo shoot. And when my 2-year-old son was rescued by firefighters because a malfunctioning furnace spewed soot and carbon monoxide into the apartment where he’d been left alone, I was attending a fundraising event in downtown Boston.
I wasn’t there for my children, Karla and Bryan, because I wasn’t their parent. Not yet, at least. The toll of their birth parents' neglect and abuse eventually culminated in what’s known as a Care and Protection order. That “C&P” authorized child welfare to remove the siblings from their parents' care and make them wards of the state.
The language in this one-page Juvenile Court document is stark, sad reading: “Whereas, said child is in need of care and protection…the court certifies that the continuation of the child in his/her home is contrary to his/her best interests. Wherefore you are commanded to forthwith deliver said child into the custody of the said Department.”
With the signing of that decree, Bryan and Karla’s life trajectory was diverted into the well-intentioned but confounding maze of the foster care system. They joined more than 400,000 children nationwide who reside in state care with 100,000 of those children legally free and waiting to be adopted by a family.
For the next year, our future kids moved through a series of residential and foster care homes – sometime together, sometimes not – as social workers struggled to find a suitable place that would keep the vulnerable siblings together.
Right about the time the kids entered the system, my spouse, Snip, and I had decided to build our family through foster care adoption. We graduated from our 8-week training course, completed our homestudy paperwork and passed our background checks and personal interviews. We were approved to be adoptive parents. Now we just had to be matched.
Meanwhile, Bryan and Karla’s latest foster parent gave the Department of Child and Families (DCF) 10 days notice to remove them from her home - yet one more time in their young lives that they had been abandoned by their adult caretakers. The clock was ticking down on the siblings finding a permanent place to call home.
Our world and theirs finally collided when Bryan and Karla came into our lives as an emergency preadoptive placement thanks to dedicated social workers who made their move happen in less than a week.
When the parental rights were legally terminated almost a year later, the kids’ path to permanency through adoption was clear. On National Adoption Day in 2009, Bryan, Karla, Snip and I stood before the Honorable Judge Daniel J. Swords in Hampden Juvenile Court – ironically, the same judge who had signed their C&P petition nearly two years before - as he declared that our adoption was “final and irrevocable.” We were a legal family.
This year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, nearly 4,500 children in more than 400 communities nationwide will celebrate their adoption during the annual National Adoption Day. Families will enter courtrooms as preadoptive placements, and leave as legal families bound as much by their love as by the law.
Like Bryan and Karla, waiting kids deserve to have someone who soothes their fears, cheers their successes, and helps them to fulfill their promise. Someone who, as Karla once said, “is thinking about me all the time.”
Make your Thanksgiving season not only a time of thanks, but also a time for giving for foster care adoption: watch a Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption video; post an AdoptUsKids adoption flyer on a community or workplace bulletin board; donate to or volunteer with your local foster care adoption agency; tweet, blog, Like and post on social media outlets; be kind to a kid in care; thank a child welfare worker and cheer an adoptive family.
Maybe today is the day you decide to be that person, that family, who adopts a waiting child from care. I can give you 100,000 reasons why – the kids who are still out there waiting for a place to call home.