April Dinwoodie: Hello and welcome to Navigating Adoption: Presented by AdoptUSKids and brought to you by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, and the Ad Council. This is the place to get a better understanding of what it means to adopt a teen from foster care. I’m your host, April Dinwoodie. Today is all about expectations. Going into an adoption brings anticipation for everyone: the child or teen and the parent or parents.
Christian: I know when I first got here and everything, I still didn’t feel like I fit in per se because it’s like I had to still get used to them. I wasn’t born into the family.
Samanthia: What I wasn’t expecting [was] that we were going to have to make a lot of adjustments
April: Openly discussing the expectations that come with foster care adoption isn’t always a conversation we have. So today, we’re going to do just that. We’re going to hear unique perspectives from Christian and Samanthia. What they saw, how they felt, and what it meant to them to become a family. It all starts with a TV news segment called Wednesday’s Child, which features children in foster care waiting to be adopted. Here’s their story.
Christian: I was on Wednesday’s Child when I was 15 and then I didn’t know my mom and dad at that time.
Samanthia: I just happened to be home that day early from work and turned on the television and saw Christian. I thought, “he’s so cute.” I was just standing there, and I don’t know, just something about him just touched my heart. I was like, I have to find out where this child was at.
Christian: I haven’t even met them, I didn’t know their names, anything. They seen me first, but I didn’t learn about them until I was 17.
Samanthia: The case manager and I would communicate on a weekly basis just trying to get acclimated to where Christian was, what he was doing, what did he need? What was his story? Was he wanting to be adopted? We did, we found out a lot about him.
Christian: My caseworker told me about them, and they started sending me care packages and gift cards and stuff for Valentine’s Day or whenever a holiday came in. Then I learned their names, but I still did not know what they looked like.
Samanthia: I was able to provide Christmas for him that particular year even though I had not met Christian, I had not laid eyes on him none other than just the segment. From there we started collecting Christmas stuff and she came by and picked it up. I guess my initial reaction was I wanted him to have an awesome Christmas.
April: That Christmas was a big moment for Samanthia and Christian.
Christian: Then my caseworker came for one of her monthly visits to the group home. She said, “You need to sit down. You’re going to like this news. You can finally go meet your adoptive parents, go meet them today.” Me, I got happy because I was like I was [going to] give up at that point because it’s like I had been in foster care for so long. I was [going to] turn 18. Then I had heard all those statistics about how teenagers don’t get adopted after a certain age. At 18, I was planning to age out of the system, but she came just in the nick of time.
Samanthia: That Christmas was an exciting Christmas for me because—for Norman, my husband, and myself because we had already made all these preparations. We had had a Christmas party. We had everybody bring in a gift and we were going to make sure that [Christian] had a phenomenal Christmas. We in turn gave gifts to our guests and we explained to them what we were doing. They were like, oh my God, we didn’t know you all were doing this. I said yes. I said we have somebody that we’re bringing in and we’re excited to have him there.
Christian: I have never lived in a house this big, so it was quite a surprise to me when we first pulled into the neighborhood. My dad didn’t pull into the house the first time, he drove me around the neighborhood, so I’m guessing which house is it? All the houses are nice, but I don’t know which one it is. Then he pulled into the driveway. I’m looking I’m like…it’s a big house. My mom was just standing there waiting for me to get there. It was nothing but warm welcoming, everything was awesome.
Samanthia: He put his bags down. I was so surprised how he just literally jumped in as if he had been here, he was a part of our family. We instantly built…I think we formed a family connection to make him feel like he was already a part of our family. I think that’s the one thing that really made him more comfortable because we wanted our house to be open to him to feel like this is his home. He doesn’t have to feel like that he’s a guest [or] he’s a foster child. He’s a child, he’s our child. We just made it feel that he was our child before we had even finalized the adoption.
Christian: My dad showed me my room and my bathroom, and my room is a big room. I’d never been in a room that big and I have my own space because back at the group home, I’m used to sharing a room. The only thing I was missing in a group home was that thing they call family.
Samanthia: It was just like bringing a baby home for the first time in the house. You just see when he went in and saw the room where the Christmas trees were, he just stood there and he just stared. I have pictures of him where he was just standing there just staring at the tree, how tall it was and I said, “All of these presents are for you.” He just looked at me and he started smiling and rubbing his hands together. That just brought so much joy to me. It just brings so much joy, so much happiness to be able to make him happy.
Christian: I’m just mesmerized by the tree how big it was, and then if you look up on the tree, all these presents, and stuff up on there. It was a lot of presents and then I already seen stuff with my name on it. I’m like, “Oh, that’s pretty cool. I ain’t even been here that long, they already got presents for me.”
April: As they welcomed Christian into their home, Samanthia and Norman found a lot of support right in their own community.
Samanthia: I have some awesome neighbors and when they found out that we were adopting Christian, everybody was so excited and they were like, “Really?” When we introduced him, everybody was just embracing him. That particular Christmas, believe it or not, he received so many gifts, unexpected gifts from our neighbors and that allowed us to know that I had support system in my neighbors.
Christian: Yes, I have a lot more support. Everybody keeps encouraging me to do better.
Samanthia: We moved Christian in, in April of 2018, but he had already been visiting a little bit with us. We sat down and we talked to him and we gave him the expectations of what we were expecting him to do, what we wanted from him, and what we were going to give to him. The bond started forming.
Christian: My mother does not play, none of that. She don’t play. After she showed me the house and everything, she laid out the rules and everything. Yes, I have chores. I do the trash every week. She does a lot of cooking, but I would help her cook sometimes. I’ll go grocery shopping with her, help her pick stuff out that we can cook throughout the week, or some stuff like that but it’s pretty neat, I like it.
Samanthia: We would find different ways to be able to connect. He would tell me different things; he would teach me things which I didn’t know. He has really been a blessing to me and my husband because he shares how he feels. I feel so good and I feel so privileged that he trusts me to be able to open up and communicate with me about his feelings, what he doesn’t like, what he doesn’t want to do, and it’s made me stop and think about, it’s not just about us but it’s about our entire family. It’s about what is important to everyone because what’s important to him should be important to the family.
Christian: My way of thinking changed. It did change a lot. I don’t have to worry about none of that here. I don’t have to always constantly look over my shoulder to make sure my stuff is still there. I know it’s there for a fact. I had to change my way of thinking about school because she’s a big person on education. I had to bring my grades up and I had to stay in school, I had to make sure I graduate. I don’t think how I used to think five years ago. I have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish that I didn’t near think about five years ago. I feel like long as I put my mind to it, I’m going to be able to do it and be successful in it.
April: If there’s one thing that brings Christian, Samanthia, and Norman together, it’s college football.
Samanthia: We have a family rivalry during football season and each one of us has a different team. My husband is Miami and Christian is Auburn and I am the wonderful, outstanding championship of University of Alabama. Roll Tide. We would sit down, and I would always wait until the first quarter of the game and I would tell them who’s going to win and who’s going to lose. They wouldn’t believe me, so we’ll start betting. I’m always the winner.
Christian: We always trash-talking to each other throughout the game. Even though my dad he’d just sit there all quiet because ain’t too much thing to say because he know we going to trash-talk him if he say something about one of our teams, but it’s always fun and it’s always full of energy. It’s like football over here.
Samanthia: This is the bond, this is the family time. This is the time where you can really start talking about what you like, you can start understanding and learning about each other as well.
April: For this episode all about expectations, we have Dr. Ruth McRoy, research professor at the University of Texas, Austin School of Social Work, and Denise Goodman, independent child welfare trainer and consultant. Welcome to the podcast.
Denise Goodman: Thanks for having us, April.
Ruth McRoy: Yes, thank you. It’s an honor.
April: In this episode, we’re really talking about expectations and thinking about all the things that both parents and youth are thinking about on their journey through adoption and foster care. Ruth, I’m going to start with you. What’s important is that we understand perceptions and reality.
Ruth: Yes, [I’d] be happy to. First of all, when we think about the children that are in foster care, according to the most recent Children’s Bureau data estimates in 2020, there were about 423,997 children in care, their average age about 8.4 [years old]. 52% were boys and of the number, the total number of children in care, 23% were African American. 27% of all the children in care are over 12 years of age. It tells us a lot about the age of the children, the race and ethnicity of the children, and so forth.
April: Based on your experience, why is it important that the people listening think about and consider adopting a teen or an older youth from foster care?
Ruth: One of the primary reasons is that we have so many children that are aging out without a permanent family and just knowing that there are a lot of families that have adopted successfully, teens that overcome some of the myths that some have that it may be a challenge to adopt older teens. The reality is that there are a lot of families that have done so, they have adopted multiple kids within their family, and it has worked very well. That suggests we need to look out besides just urban, but looking at rural communities too, finding families. The most important part is to reduce the number of children that are aging out of our foster care system without a permanent family.
April: Thank you so much for all of that really important information. Now we’re going to shift to Denise Goodman. Denise is going to help us understand a little bit more about maybe what holds folks back from considering foster care or adopting from foster care. Denise, welcome.
Denise: Thank you so much. I think there’s a lot of things I think that hold families back, certainly a fear of the unknown. They don’t really know what they’re going to get themselves into working with an agency. I think that oftentimes, particularly families of color feel like well, we don’t want them because we’re not actively recruiting in their communities and reducing the barriers to those families that are coming in, we just make it hoop after hoop. I think sometimes families get discouraged early on. I said, “wait right here, I’ll go get somebody to talk to you.”
There’s a lot of I think negative information sometimes out in the community when people have had bad experiences, or there are headlines in the news that turn people off a little bit. I do believe that some people think that it costs a lot of money to adopt, which we know from foster care, that’s simply not the case. I think there’s a lot of different reasons based on the family of why they hesitate.
April: It’s really all about relationships, isn’t it, Denise?
Denise: Sure is. I always say that we will be able to work through a lot more difficult things when we have a relationship than if it’s a stranger, right?
Ruth: That’s something we really learned about a lot in our research visiting families in South Carolina, in Texas, and other places to find, especially rural families that the connections made all the difference and families who would let us know that they had not even thought about adopting until they saw a good friend adopt and realized, “Wow, if they can do it, we can do it.” Just having that connection and being…The other thing that was unique in those situations was that the families, once they adopted – and sometimes they adopted several children — they became real support networks for one another.
It’s amazing. They were so committed to the adoptions and found that if there was any challenge or at any point, they’d work together to try to resolve whatever problems came up and were extremely successful and many went back to adopt another sibling group after raising one set. The experiences we’ve had with so many of the families and I think more than anything, as Denise is saying in terms of teens, hearing from others that have adopted teens, their wonderful experiences. Yes, there are sometimes challenges, but to hear about both positives and the challenges and how they overcame the challenges. We have many, many teens that need permanent families.
April: We know that every situation is different but, typically, how long is the process of adoption from foster care?
Denise: It is different family to family, situation to situation. It can be any…to go through the process of getting your home study completed, your family assessment completed, and then being able to identify a child, it could take six to nine months, could take six months to a year. If you’re already a foster parent of the young person and that young person has been in your home, it could go quicker. I always say the more open families can be about the characteristics of a child that they’re interested in adopting so that a range of ages, male or female, that allows more options to be presented.
I would say that by the time you invest in your own personal development of getting ready to be an adoptive parent, getting the home stay done, your education done, your home prepared, and being able to during that period of time start to identify a young person and begin the visitation, I think you could have a young person in your home in nine months.
April: How do you help parents specifically, but also youth and teens, understand that it is a process and it’s about a relationship-building process? How do you help everyone understand that?
Denise: I really try to help them recognize that it’s not going to be attachment at first sight. Whether it is a marital relationship and how long it took little by little in those steps to build the trust, to build the knowledge of each other, the information of each other, to build a shared path together, that it does take time. Again, recognizing that many of our young people have experienced so many disappointments and so many breaks of their trust in the past, that they may be a little hesitant or slow to open up very quickly, but that the onus is on the parent to be the one to be reaching out to them, to meet their needs, to engage them, to do recreational things with them, to build memories with them, little by little, and to share family jokes together, or make your own jokes together.
April: With that in mind, we’ve covered a lot around what the processes are, what the transformations are, all the things that we want to be centered on for this conversation about navigating adoption. In your words, why is it just so, so, so vital and so urgent and so important that we support teens in being adopted from foster care today?
Denise: Everyone needs a family for their entire life. You don’t stop needing a family at age 18 and our youth are no exception. Maybe, even more, they need those strong families and parents to support them, to love them, to nurture them, to give them the stability they haven’t had and the safety that’s going to help them heal from the traumas that they’ve experienced, to give them that room to grow and heal. It hurts my soul when people give up on kids and we can’t give up because that family may be just around the corner.
April: I love that, Denise. It’s such a joy to have this conversation with you, to hear all of your professional and personal connections to adoption, and specifically, teens from foster care. Thank you so much.
Denise: Thanks, April. Appreciate it.
April: This episode is all about expectations. I want to talk a little bit about what maybe was the same, what you shared and maybe thinking about expectations about becoming a family together, and maybe what was a little bit different. Christian, I’m going to start with you. As you made the decision to be involved in Wednesday’s Child, what were you thinking during that process? Being involved in Wednesday’s Child meant what to you? What did you think was going to happen?
Christian: Well, I knew I was going to be on national television, that I knew but I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. I didn’t know the process was going to take so long. I thought maybe it’d probably be a one-and-done. Probably I’d be on television then probably something happened like in the next couple of weeks. I didn’t know it’d be like a whole two, three years later that something finally starts happening.
April: When you were first in touch with Sam and Norman, that was through just gifts and different ways that they were supporting you, correct, and that’s how you started to know them. It was like at a distance, right? Tell me a little bit about that.
Christian: All I knew was their names and how they write, that’s all I knew. From telling from the way that they was writing, she was the one doing all the writing.
April: Right. How did she write?
Christian: You can tell how she feels when she’s writing. You like tell the feelings in the writing. It was all coming off as loving and caring and wanting to help and stuff like that.
April: At what point did you realize that you might actually meet them, and you might actually start the process of being part of their family?
Christian: I think it was after she sent that big old box full of clothes. I think that’s when I feel like, I think this is going to go somewhere. I think I’m going to finally get to meet them and interact with them soon. And then it came true.
April: Sam, when you started the process too, it sounds like your expectation was simply to help.
Samanthia: Once I laid eyes on him, I just knew that there was just something about him that just resonated with me and that I had to know more about Christian, and he was just opening up. I think that is so important when you are building a relationship, when you’re bringing children into the home, get to know them for them. It makes it a whole lot easier to be able to empathize where they’re coming from. It helps me as the adult and my husband, understand how we need to strategize how to deal with some of the challenges, or our trying to help him get to a better place, a more comfortable place.
April: It sounds like there was a certain consistency and expectation, Christian, that you had in your group home. You had an expectation and a consistency of how life was there and that it was a different expectation and consistency in Sam and Norman’s home.
Christian: Well, the difference between there and here, the group home is you have a certain set of stuff you got to do every single day. Like I said, you do the chores, get ready for bed, do your schoolwork, all that. You got to do all that at a specific time every day. Here it’s different stuff every day. Say, I’ll go to work then I’ll come home, relax a little while and then get ready to go to school, and then once I get home from school, prepare stuff for the next day and do it all over again.
Then it’s something different every weekend. We might be talking to y’all one weekend and then the next weekend we probably riding around doing something, finding something to do. Then next weekend we probably just chilling. In the group home, it’s the same thing. You expect the same thing that’s going to happen every day. Here you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s the excitement in it.
April: That’s great. Sam for you as well, was there anything to you that was surprising that you weren’t expecting?
Samanthia: I wasn’t expecting that we were going to have to make a lot of adjustments. What I mean by that is that they were positive adjustments, but they were also adjustments on Norman and I in our life as well as trying to make adjustments with Christian because the number one thing that we told him was that you would be educated. You’re going to be educated. We were going to do whatever we had to do. Our priorities shifted and so you have to prioritize things and not just look at it based on just yourself, but you look at it based on the need of Christian.
April: You mentioned something before about anticipation. This idea of, I think for both of you, anticipating what it was going to be like in those first moments. Christian, what were you thinking?
Christian: I was feeling like I said earlier, nervous and excited at the same time because I didn’t know what I was stepping into.
April: Then Sam, I could feel it as you were explaining it, this idea that someone new was coming to the family. It’s not a baby, it’s a well-formed individual, but there’s still that excitement and those moments of real pins and needles and excitement. Tell me more about that.
Samanthia: I was nervous, but I was excited as well. All I wanted to do was to, well, I’ll say Norman and I, wanted to do was to bring some sense of normalcy, some happiness, and security to him. The nervous part was not knowing if he was going to start going through some challenges of his own, but was resistant in sharing because…one thing he did do, and this is funny now, so one time he did something and I was getting on to him and he was like, “What you going to do? Send me back to the group home?” I said, “You are not going anywhere.” I said, “This is your home and you are going to stay.” I said, “This little trick that you tried is not going to work,” and I saw him smile. [chuckles]
April: Well, it speaks so much to me as an adopted person myself, this idea that their expectation sometimes is that folks won’t stay. There is this moment in time where you have tested so much…just talk to my mother, she’ll tell you…that there’s this testing that’s going on. Then there’s that moment where at least for me, I let the sigh out and said, okay, there is consistency. I’m not going anywhere, they’re not going anywhere and we’re going to work through this as a family. Tell me about the family today in this moment. What do you want your family to continue to grow to be like in the future?
Samanthia: Our family is continuing to learn where intent and we’re continuing to improve how we handle situations, and it’s teaching me as a parent, it’s teaching Norman as a parent. We both share different views, but the main thing is that we are still a family. You’re still connected. He doesn’t have to feel or assume that because something goes wrong [that] they don’t love me, they don’t want me anymore. That is totally not the case because, again, your family is your family. You cannot replace your family.
Sometimes it’s just about finding alternative solutions to helping us to understand that we are human beings, we make mistakes, but your family is the strength of your family. That’s where your love and unity comes from. You’re still my son, you’re still Norman’s son and so that’s it. I just think that’s the most brilliant thing that a person could ever give to another person is to show love and to just make sure that they know that they can always come to you with whatever the situation is.
April: I want you both to think about this idea of adding versus subtracting. How does it feel to have been added this family and for long term, right? Forever.
Christian: It feels great because I feel like I’m part of them now. I know when I first started, when I first got here and everything, I still didn’t feel like I fit in per se because it’s like I had to still get used to them. I wasn’t born into the family. To me, I didn’t technically fit in at first, but now everybody treats me as if I was already here the whole 21 years, so. It just feels like that now and it’s really great.
April: Beautiful. Well now, that’s that about managing expectations, right? Wow, I’ve learned so much in this time we’ve had together and it really is such a shining example of what is possible and how when you move with intention and build relationships and keep it real, keep it 100, you can imagine how a family can grow.
April: Much love to both of you. If you are interested in adopting a teen from foster care, AdoptUSKids has adoption specialists ready to guide you through that process right now. Learn more by visiting adoptuskids.org.
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