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Stepping through our fears—for Steven

Helen Cotton is a social worker and former teacher from South Carolina. In this guest post, Helen writes about adopting a teen who had been her student many years ago.

My husband, Jerry, and I found out we couldn’t have children two years ago. At the time, I was a social worker at a local nonprofit. One of our initiatives was working with youth who become homeless after they leave the foster care system. I knew that despite our best efforts, many of them would struggle after they left the system without a family.

It occurred to me—and my husband agreed—that maybe there was a reason that we couldn’t have children. Maybe we were meant to be that family to a teen who needed one.

We weren’t really sure what we were getting into—and were more than a bit nervous—when we started the process of getting licensed to adopt from foster care.

As we did, I started looking at photolistings.

One day I came across a profile of a 16-year-old red-headed boy with freckles and a devilish smile who looked very familiar. Suddenly, it hit me that this kid was Steven, a student of mine when I was a teacher more than seven years ago!

Steven enrolled in my class mid-year and made a big impression on me. He was a little troublemaker who was always trying to get my attention—making faces and acting out! He was also a sweet, smart little boy who cared deeply for other people. I could tell that all of the pieces were not coming together for him at home.

This must be fate. Steven is meant to be our son, I thought. But reality intervened. While we were getting licensed, Steven was placed with another family.

We considered giving up, but figured that we were already knee-deep in the process and close to getting licensed. And we knew that there were a lot of kids like Steven out there who need homes. So we continued our search.

Seven months later, our worker called with the news that Steven’s placement had disrupted. He was living in a group home. He had been in and out of foster care for four years now. I was excited, but also scared, wondering what was going on with him and if we would be up to the challenge of meeting his needs.

I put away my fears, and my husband and I went to meet him. When we entered the group home, Steven just stared at me. It was a very awkward moment.

Not long after we all sat down, he asked us point-blank why we wanted to adopt an older kid. When I told him that I had worked with children for a long time—including several years ago as a teacher—he got a big smile on his face and said “Oh my God, I remember you! You were my third grade teacher.”

He went around the whole house telling everyone who I was. When we had to say good bye, I felt like we were leaving a piece of our hearts behind.

We started regular visits, and everything seemed to be going well. After all that he had been through in the seven years since he was in my classroom, Steven was still the sweet, caring—and yes, feisty—boy that I remembered.

Steven came to live with us in September of last year. We finalized his adoption in February. Like any family, we have our ups and downs. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows. And, as we knew from the beginning, we’ve had to learn a lot to help Steven work through past traumas. But the tough times are far outweighed by the jokes we play on each other, the new traditions we’ve created together, the nights we spend cuddling while watching movies on TV, and watching him succeed in many aspects.

Sometimes it amazes me that despite all that he has been through, Steven still loves unconditionally and is driven to help other people. He’s always bringing friends to our house and helping his friends as much as possible. From the beginning, he’s told us that he wants to become a police officer and be part of a unit that works with the K-9 unit and teen runaways, so that he can give hope to kids who might be experiencing what he did.

We don’t know exactly what Stephen’s future holds, but we are certain that whatever he does, he’ll be the best person that he can be. What parents could hope for more than that?

Read more about adopting teens on our website.