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“It’s just like having biological kids. We’re in it for the long haul.”

VanSlyke family

Mark VanSlyke is an elementary school teacher in Illinois and the father of five boys by birth. Mark adopted two sisters who were living in Kansas after seeing their profile on AdoptUSKids.

Why did you adopt from foster care?

My wife and I had five boys by birth, but for as long as we were married, we’d talked about adopting. We were in the midst of planning an adoption journey to Ukraine to adopt two sisters in 2016 when my wife was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away in 2017.

The rule in Ukraine is only “traditional families”—meaning no single parents, no same-sex couples—can adopt. For a few years, I held out hope that the rule would change. I was even able to host those two girls for two summer visits. It was an awesome experience. But the rules didn’t change. I realized that my international adoption journey was over.

Shortly after, I felt God turn my attention from international adoption to adoption from foster care. I became a licensed foster parent and registered on AdoptUSKids.

You searched on AdoptUSKids and other sites for more than a year. What was your criteria, and what made you think your daughters would be a match?

I’d done the baby and toddler thing five times, and my boys were between 10 and 20 years old. I wanted to adopt older children. And hosting the sisters from Ukraine helped me see that I could be a good parent to older girls.

I remember the first time I saw my daughters on AdoptUSKids. It was March 2, 2020. I’d probably inquired about 70 children before that day. As you search through potential matches, there are a lot of children you look at and think they could be a match. But when I looked at these sisters, I thought: these 12 and 15-year-old girls could be my daughters.

Both of them were very sports minded. We are Christians and the girls wanted to be in a Christian home. All of these things made me think I might be a good fit for them, and vice versa. I submitted my application and prayed that I would be chosen to be their adoptive family.

Your daughters were living in Kansas, and you live in Illinois. What did the matching and approval process look like?

Shortly after I saw the girls, I sent my letter of inquiry through the site. A day or so later, I got a response from their worker. She asked for my home study and suggested a phone meeting. After we spoke, she encouraged me to submit an adoption application. I talked with my boys, and they were all for it.

We had what they call a Best Interest Staffing in July. Soon after, I was told that I was the best candidate. I was elated!

“Our home study worker, who has been with us since the beginning, has been a great help. I consider her a friend and source of support.”

In September, I started having Zoom conversations and short visits with the girls. Several of my sons accompanied me on trips to visit them in Kansas. Later that year, they came to our home for short stays. By the end of January, the interstate adoption paperwork was approved, and on March 5, 2021, nearly a year after I first spotted them on AdoptUSKids, the girls moved here permanently. We made their adoption official seven months later.

You raised five children with your wife, and now you’ve expanded your family as a single dad. Where do you find support?

Our home study worker, who has been with us since the beginning, has been a great help. I consider her a friend and source of support.

When we were planning to adopt internationally, I jumped in and joined every Facebook page and message board that I found. I often joke that it’s a rule that if you’re involved in foster care, you have to be signed up for four or five Facebook groups! I’ve also made a lot of friends who have adopted.

Whether it’s online or in person, I think it’s really important to be connected to others who are on this journey. Find people who you can ask, “Is this normal? Am I doing something wrong?” Because people who are in the adoption and foster care community see things as normal that other people might not.

You’ve been a single dad of daughters for less than a year! How’s it going?

I really love the added dimension that my daughters bring to our family. It’s one of these things where you look backward and you can’t imagine what your life would be without the girls—without them in your family.

It’s not always smooth sailing—sometimes it’s like sliding down the big metal slide with short pants on—“Wow, wasn’t expecting that!” But it’s not like I went into this thinking I’d save the receipt and do a return if things didn’t go well. It’s just like having biological kids. We’re in it for the long haul. We still have lots of ground to cover, and we probably will for a while. But I really feel like this is just what I envisioned our family to be.