Friday, June 26, 2009

"What Would I Do Instead?"

Donna—Gram to her foster and adopted children—doesn’t remember for sure how she became interested in being a foster parent. She does remember clearly, however, how she decided to become the adoptive mother of two of the foster children in her care.

Donna and her husband, Thomas, first fostered in the early 1970’s while living in New Hampshire. Back then, Donna was a stay-at-home mom to their biological daughter, Dawn, and son, Steven, which she says made it convenient for them to take in other young children. That first stint in foster parenting ended when they relocated to another county.

The couple didn’t foster again until thirty years later, in 2004, after both had retired. Having settled in eastern Hillsborough County on an eight acre parcel of land shared with Dawn and her husband, Kenny, Donna and Thomas were inspired to resume fostering by their daughter and son-in-law, who had begun foster parenting several years earlier.

After completing their state-required Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP) training through Camelot Community Care, Inc., the couple became licensed in January of 2005. Within days, they began taking foster children into their home. Donna and Thomas were respectively called Gram and Grampy by their grandchildren next door, and their foster children followed suit in calling them by those names, as well.

In May of 2005 then 7-year-old Carly and 5-year-old Joseph, a sister and brother sibling group, came to live with the couple. Donna recalls Joseph saying, “I don’t see no roaches here,” giving her indication early on of the conditions the children were used to living in. After being with the couple only one week, the siblings announced they wanted to stay there for good. Until that time, Donna and Thomas hadn’t considered adopting, but the children’s determination caused them to openly begin discussing the possibility.

Within a few short months of becoming licensed, the couple had eight foster children—the maximum number they were licensed for—living with them, including Carly and Joseph. Unfortunately, in late 2005 Thomas was diagnosed with cancer. In addition to a houseful of children, their daily lives now also included the regular arrivals and departures of hospice workers. Perhaps because the children’s time in foster care had gotten them used to people coming and going in their lives, there were fairly unaware of the seriousness of the situation. Carly was the only one to have any real idea of how sick Thomas was. After a long and painful battle, he succumbed to the disease, quietly passing on March 1, 2006.

Donna says that having the children in their lives is what got her through that tough time. “Things had to be done,” she says. “I had to act like everything was okay.” Even after her husband passed, she never considered giving up foster parenting. Instead, she kept busy by continuing to take care of the children as a single parent.

“What would I do instead?” she asks.

For some time, Donna continued to be at capacity with eight foster children rotating through her home. Soft in tone and willowy in stature, one nonetheless gets the impression that Donna does not tolerate much in the way of poor behavior. Discipline includes time outs, the children being sent to their room, and having privileges revoked. With foster children regularly arriving and leaving, Donna incorporates convenience wherever she can, such as using paper plates for dinner, and the children help keep the house tidy by handling such chores as doing their own laundry and cleaning their bathroom.

Most of Donna’s foster children have accepted the structure and rules of the household while they lived with her. Some, however, had been so severely impacted by their previous experiences that they proved to be a physical threat to themselves or the other children. In those instances, the children were removed from her care by Donna’s request.

As other children came and went, Carly and Joseph continued to live with Donna. The two adjusted well to their new home overall, but Joseph was prone to violence for some time. Donna notes that when he would get off the bus after school he would be uncontrollable and filled with an angry energy that led him to pick fights with the other children. She sought to understand where the behavior was coming from, and why it occurred in the afternoons but not in the mornings.

Over time, Donna learned that the dosage of a medication Joseph had been prescribed by a psychiatrist was woefully insufficient. While she continued to point out the issues to Joseph’s caseworkers, it was only through her own persistence that the dosage was eventually properly adjusted, following which Joseph’s instances of violence decreased dramatically.

While they were still foster children of Gram’s, Carly and Joseph did not have contact with either biological parent but they did initially stay in touch with three half siblings, all on their mother’s side, who were also living in Florida. As the years went on, communication from their half siblings slowly decreased. Their half-brother was eventually adopted and has not been in contact with his younger siblings since. Their half-sisters, who live with their biological father, at one point initiated scheduling a visit with Carly and Joseph. Donna recalls Carly spending most of the appointed day standing in the driveway excitedly awaiting her sisters’ arrival. Sadly, they never came and, now living in another state, they have not been in touch since.

The court’s official termination of Carly and Joseph’s biological parents’ rights took place in the fall of 2007, which meant that the children also became eligible for adoption at that time. Because National Adoption Day is in November, the caseworkers asked Donna to postpone finalizing the children’s’ adoption so that they could participate in that day’s ceremonies. On November 16, 2007, Donna finally and forever became the mother of Carly and Joseph. During the process the children chose new names for themselves, both of which honor Donna’s husband, the man who would have become their father but for his passing.

Since coming to live with Donna, Carly and Joseph have known a life of structure and routine. After school and on weekends, they spend most of their free time outside with the other children playing with the family’s horses and goats, or riding their bikes and scooters. Birthdays are large celebrations that include Donna’s daughter, son-in-law (now Carly and Joseph’s sister and brother-in-law), and their children. Gram makes a cake, and there are pizza and party favors. Typically, just family members participate.

When she celebrated her most recent birthday this past October, for the first time Carly invited a friend over to celebrate with them.

No doubt, it was only the first of many such times to come.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Adoption Community Call to Action for Orphan Film‏

Copied from an Adoptive Families magazine email...

Dear Readers,

There is a horror film being released on July 24, called Orphan, about a family who adopts an older girl who "is not what she appears to be." The film is currently being promoted, and the trailer is available at . The adoption message is extremely negative, and plays into the stereotypes of adopted children, particularly older children, as damaged.

Though we have not been able to preview the entire movie, the trailer leads us to believe the movie will send a horrific message about adoption. The adoption community is protesting the release of the film. We urge you to contact the makers of the film, as well as your local movie theater chains, with your concerns. Feel free to copy or adapt the sample letter below.

To whom it may concern:
I want to express my outrage about the release of the movie Orphan. The film plays into the stereotype of adopted children as damaged and dangerous. It discourages families from pursuing adoption, particularly adoption of older children, who are especially in need of loving homes. As an adoptive parent, I am horrified by the line in the trailer that "it must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own." Adoption has often been misrepresented in the media, but the previews for this film are unbelievably offensive. I urge you to change the promotional materials, and to consider holding the release of the film altogether.

Contact information:

Warner Bros.
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522

Silver Pictures
4000 Warner Blvd. 90
Burbank, CA 91522-0001

Time Warner Inc.
One Time Warner Center
New York, NY 10019-8016

Thank you for your support.The editors of Adoptive Families

Monday, June 8, 2009

Press Release Sent to Local Media on Friday, 6/5/09

June 5, 2009


Michelle Schumacher
Plan B Events and Promotions, LLC


TAMPA, FL—Freelance marketer and adoptive mom Michelle Schumacher wants to expand awareness of the positive foster adoption stories in our community.

Schumacher and her husband adopted their 9-year-old son out of foster care two and a half years ago, and today she considers her family to be a foster adoption success story.

Early on, however, she remembers feeling overwhelmed and incompetent. “Looking back, we had no idea what we were getting into. We had a lot of learning to do about the unique issues former foster children are prone to, as well as how to effectively manage those issues.”

During the rough moments, Schumacher would seek out the stories of other foster adoptive families who had learned to productively manage their children’s special needs. “The stories of others who had been down this road before us and turned out okay encouraged me to believe that as long as we kept trying, we would be successful, too,” she says.
Persistence eventually led Schumacher and her husband to locate the resources that have helped them learn how to effectively parent their son, particularly through the guidance of professionals specifically trained in working with these children. Now Schumacher wants to help others find the same success.

Recalling how helpful the stories of other foster adoptive families had been for her, she set out to make those stories more widely known., featuring its first foster adoption success story family profile, was launched this week.

Focusing primarily on Hillsborough County, the blog will be updated regularly with additional family profiles. Hopeful that expanding awareness of successful foster adoptions in our area will likewise increase local interest, the blog also includes links to sites featuring information about how to adopt foster children.

Knowing first-hand the importance of post adoption support services, links to local support resources will also be included. “Increasing the number of foster adoptions in Florida is one of Governor Crist’s primary initiatives, and I applaud him for this effort. That said, in order for those families to also become success stories there absolutely needs to be a simultaneous increase in the support services available to those who do adopt.”

“Success will be much harder to come by if not,” says Schumacher.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"I've Been Mommy Ever Since"

Summer and her husband, Leonard, had always talked about adopting. Growing up, both had personal ties to adoption. Summer’s mother was adopted when she was two years old. When Leonard was 14 years old his aunt and uncle, who were unable to have a child, adopted his cousin as an infant. For both Summer and Leonard, their previous experiences with adoption had been positive.

The bi-racial couple already had two biological daughters. They were interested in finding a boy and, racially, they wanted a child that could fit in best with their family make up. Realizing they “didn’t want to do the baby thing again with the diapers,” they also wanted an older child.

Well aware that older children were likely to come with baggage, the two candidly discussed together (and eventually with their case worker) the situations that as a family they felt they could and couldn’t handle. “I felt kind of bad…I felt like I was going to Petsmart,” says Summer. But she and Leonard were committed to not taking in a child that wasn’t a fit for them. They wanted somebody they could relate to, and they wanted the child to feel he could relate to them.

In March of 2007 they saw the Heart Gallery, a touring exhibit featuring photos of and information about children waiting to be adopted, on display at Citrus Park Mall. They took information cards on a couple of the children profiled. The following week Summer contacted Camelot Community Care, an agency in Hillsborough County that facilitates foster adoptions.

Through Camelot, in July of 2007 the couple began MAPP (Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting), Florida’s required training program for all potential foster and foster adoptive families. Until they began the classes, they didn’t realize how many children in our area were in the foster care system, or how many were available for adoption. Summer remembers her shock at realizing that kids her daughter goes to school with could be in this situation.

That fall, the couple went through the next step in the process of adoption, which was a home study to determine if they would be eligible to adopt a child out of state care. As it turned out, at that same time a little African American boy who would eventually come to be known to them as Isaiah was living in a foster home the couple’s case manager also oversaw. S ummer and Leonard had actually seen Isaiah’s picture on the Heart Gallery. At that time he was listed as having been placed since his foster parents intended to adopt him, so the couple didn’t take his information card. But he had definitely caught their eye.

In October, Isaiah’s adoption by his foster family fell through, and he was moved into another of Summer and Leonard’s caseworker’s foster homes. In December, he was once again scheduled for “match,” the formal process by which those seeking to adopt are considered as possible families for children eligible for adoption. Knowing he fit the profile of the child Summer and Leonard were looking for, their case worker contacted the couple to see if they would like to be presented as a possible match for Isaiah.

From later conversations with their caseworker Summer and Leonard learned the match committee was firm in its position that Isaiah should have a strong African American father figure. His guardian ad litem also felt he needed to have a religious family, as church was something he had become accustomed to in his time with his foster family. Summer recalls their case worker calling to say, “They want to know if you attend a church and, if so, which one?” Summer answered, yes, and provided the requested information. They were deemed an appropriate match, and the process by which they would be introduced to Isaiah, and he to them, began.

Summer and Leonard’s family first met Isaiah on January 20, 2008. He had just turned 6 years old. Subsequent visits went well and Summer soon felt comfortable mentioning to Isaiah that it was okay if he called her mom, but it was okay if he called her Summer, too. Shortly after that, he started calling her mommy. “And I’ve been mommy ever since,” she says.

Five weeks after their first meeting, Isaiah moved in with his new mom, dad, and sisters.

Prior to the adoption hearing, Isaiah asked if he could change his name. He asked Summer what names she liked. When she told them that had their youngest daughter been a boy, her name would have been Isaiah, he said “I want that name,” and they began to practice calling him by it. Shortly thereafter, his teacher sent a note home that said, “I don’t know what’s going on but he’s telling the kids that his name is Isaiah.” Summer remembers laughing as she phoned the teacher to explain that Isaiah wasn’t crazy, and he wasn’t speaking of an imaginary friend, but that the name change was part of his impending adoption. Summer and Leonard finalized their adoption of Isaiah on May 30, 2008.

Looking back, Summer reflects that “Isaiah has been able to fit into my family as if he’d always been there,” and that he has always felt at home with them. During the year and a half he has been with them, he has not exhibited any significant delays, and he has not been diagnosed with any disorders typical to the foster adoptive population. At the start of first grade last fall he received N’s for “Needs Improvement” in every area on his report card but at a recent conference with the teacher Summer was told that he is on track in everything. Of his earlier academic performance she believes he was simply a victim of circumstance and his time in the system.

Summer says their daughters have adjusted to having a brother, “really well.” Throughout the entire process, the couple kept their oldest daughter informed about what they were doing. As Isaiah was closer in age to her than her younger sister, the couple explained that their new brother would be more of her equal. They included her in events and explained the process to her as they went through it. Their daughter was so excited that she even kept her class posted, letting them know step by step everything that was going on as her family went through the process of getting to know and then adopting her brother.

At the mention of their family sounding “too perfect,” Summer laughs and says, “It’s not been perfect. There have been issues.” She says she and Leonard have handled each situation as they’ve come. When asked if she would recommend adoption to other families Summer says yes, but that she would tell them to make sure and get all the facts. “Ask questions. Make sure you’re educated. Make sure you’re family is a strong, united family,” she says.

Since Isaiah came into their lives, Summer has become "Information Central" for her co-workers who are considering adopting, noting they often approach her to ask how it works. When she tells people about the process they are often surprised. “It’s that easy?” they ask. Summer says she thinks the process worked great, noting it wasn’t always the way she wanted it to be, but it was worth it.

Summer believes her family has been blessed. While they knew things weren’t going to be “hunky dory,” they also knew they could handle whatever came along. She has told her husband “It’s sad, what Isaiah went through,” but that she believes “he was meant for us.”

Summer, Leonard, and their three children recently celebrated the one year anniversary of the day Isaiah was adopted. Summer notes the day is of particular importance to her because, “That’s the day I sat in the court room and they told me this is my son,” she says. “I love him. He is my kid.”

While the couple has talked about possibly adopting again someday, right now they want to focus on taking the best care possible of the three children they do have. “We saved one kid’s life,” Summer says.

She adds that she knows they can’t save everyone. “But we did something.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Upcoming Hillsborough Kids, Inc. Resource Fair

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
1pm - 4pm

Booth style Expo complete with community resources and HKI internal resources. Wander through the room collecting information from each resource present. Handouts will be available for you and representatives will be available to answer questions about their program.

Learn about the many services and supports available to the children and families we serve.

√ Hear from representatives
of various agencies

√ Find out about eligibility

√ Sharpen your referral skills

√ Ask questions of the experts

√ Collect program materials

Join us at:
DCF Conference Room
9393 N. Florida AvenueTampa, FL. 33612