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Reaching out to a student—and gaining a daughter

Kean family

Maci officially became a member of the Kean family six weeks before her 18th birthday.

Gigi Kean, a high school special education teacher, knew Maci, then 17, as a student at her school. Gigi didn’t directly work with Maci, but they talked sometimes, and Maci came to her for support with emotional and social issues. She knew that Maci was hard of hearing and that she lived in a group home for teenagers. Gigi had experienced some childhood struggles, and she saw a bit of herself in Maci’s spirit.

“I saw her as a super-smart, vivacious, fiery young lady,” she said.

Maci had no family in the picture, and was officially considered a ward of the state. Yet it had never occurred to Gigi that Maci might be interested in being adopted.

“I still was so ignorant at the time and I had never thought of adolescents, especially at 17, as kids who still needed or wanted families,” Gigi said.

Her understanding of this subject was about to change.

An “out of body” experience

Gigi, who, with her husband Chris, already had two kids of her own, Carolyn (15) and Christopher (10), had thought long ago about adopting, but that idea “went on the back burner” as she got her master’s degree and pursued her career. The subject returned to the front of her mind during a conversation with Maci.

One day, Maci mentioned that she was planning to change her dependency plan from adoption to APPLA, or extended foster care. The teenager had decided to give up on the idea that she would ever be adopted. “I just have to be realistic about my life and my future,” she told Gigi.

Gigi says that during this conversation, she had what she calls almost an “out of body” experience. “I was listening, but I was also thinking, ‘This is my kid, and I need to figure out how to make this happen.’” She was thinking of adopting Maci, and she wasn’t sure how to get started or if Maci would even be interested.

Reaching out to Maci

Gigi thought for about a week about the idea. “It often kept me awake at night,” she said. Then she and her husband discussed it, thought some more, and agreed that they wanted to try.

Finally, she approached Maci. To bring up the subject, she asked hypothetically how Maci would feel if a family she knew were to be interested in adopting her. Would she say yes?

Maci seemed curious, and interested. After more conversations, Maci agreed that she was open to exploring the possibility with Gigi and her family.

Becoming a family of five

Once that decision was made, everyone jumped into the adoption process, which would take nearly a year. Gigi and Chris took classes and read books, and they brought their children to therapy as a family of four to prepare them for how life might be different with their new sibling.

It was a busy time, and it was also an emotional time. “It is very hard to learn what our kids in our own society, in our own neighborhoods, are going through,” Gigi said.

In June 2016, Maci’s adoption was finalized and she officially became Maci Kean, six weeks before her 18th birthday. Each family member wrote vows for the occasion and Maci’s biological parents were mentioned by Maci as well as by her new parents. Then the Keans threw a big party, celebrating their new family.

Advice for adoptive parents

Gigi advises parents who are adopting to know their child’s story, but to avoid letting their background define them. “It’s their history but it is not who they are,” she says. She also says that, for parents who have biological kids already, it’s important to know that parenting needs to be different for an adopted child, at least for the first couple of years, informed by the trauma the child has experienced in the past.

Maci is working on the future right now as a college student majoring in psychology and minoring in art, with an eye on becoming an art therapist. And her family is rooting her on along the way. “It’s hard now to even remember when we weren’t a family of five,” Gigi said.