The Road to Forever
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True Stories of Fostering and Adoption
through the eyes of Giocosa foster/adopt parents
I first met Vinny at a children’s shelter that had a transitional living program for teens aging out of foster care and I really got to know what a great kid he was. When he was taken out of the program and was moved to a temporary shelter 3 hours away, I was upset for him and tried to find him a foster family, but was not successful.
Unfortunately, like many teens who have spent their lives in the system, he had a behavior history that on paper, just did not look good. It also included things that had nothing to do with him that he was never involved with, like arson. It made him look like a risk, a risk that people didn’t want to take, a past that with no other place to live, would have him end up back at another RTC until he turned 18, and then what? He’d have nothing. No place to live, no family, no one to guide him and teach him how to make it in life. No one to teach him that he matters, that he’s important and smart and can have any future he wants. That he CAN make it, even though he has been failed by everyone his whole life. Who would he turn to? The only place he knows...back to the gang.
So when I couldn’t find an answer for him, I decided that WE could be that answer. We had decided after 3 years of fostering with several placements and one adoption later that we were done with our foster season and needed to take some time to focus more on our family. For some reason though, I had placed our foster home on hold instead of closing it. Fast forward 3.5 months and I am thinking, we can do this again, we can make it work. My heart told me that we NEEDED to do this and that God would work out the details, and he did.
Vinny came to our home and fit right in. He knew me, but he hadn’t yet met my 3 kids and he had only met my husband briefly. After living at RTC’s, shelters or the street he didn’t know how to be in a house with a family. He was so nervous. He was so so careful with how he acted and what he did because he was afraid to do something wrong and be “kicked out”. It was pretty extreme and my heart hurt for him. Covid ended up being a blessing for us. We were forced to spend so much time together as a family and it really bonded everyone.
Vinny is such a special kid and we love him so much. Deciding to adopt him was a super easy decision. He had given up ever finding a family. He was taken off the list and told by CPS that he was “unadoptable”. He is super kind, gentle and respectful. He loved on all of my other kids from the first day and has really bonded with my 10 year old especially, who has Tourette’s Syndrome. He has helped her in so many ways and she says that he is her best friend. He has bonded with my 6 year old son who LOVES to wrestle and play the way boys often do. He loves and accepts my 13 year old daughter that has autism and Tourette’s also. He never treated her differently. He is a super positive kid, even though his history is full of abuse and disappointments. He brings laughter and joy to our home. He wants to help people and make good choices. He wanted what all kids want... a family who loves him and...a chance. A chance to make good choices and have a future.
Our adoption journey with Vinny was quick, and unexpected. We wanted to adopt him before he turned 18, so we got special permission from the courts to do so. We went through a lot to make it happen even with a lot of opposition. And we couldn’t be happier with our decision. Vinny needed a family, but maybe even more than that, Vinny completes our family in a way that we didn’t even know we needed and I’ll forever be happy that we took that “risk” on this very special kid.
A home full of girls
An interview with a single mom who opened her home and heart to adopt 4 daughters:
Tell us a little about your journey to choosing adoption.
I believe in family preservation first so I didn’t become a foster parent with the intention to find children to adopt but rather because I love being a mom and parenting. As a single mom with a daughter who was getting older I wanted to open my home and continue getting to provide that day to day parenting younger children need. I chose to be licensed for both foster care and adoption because I knew that many times due to the brokenness of our world children enter foster care and are not able to have reunification with family. I think the less a child can experience breaks in their attachment to primary caregivers the better so I planned to be willing to adopt a child in my care if adoption became their primary plan. I feel blessed by the adoption of my daughters but I did originally think that I would foster more children who’s cases ended in reunification than what I have experienced.
How has adoption affected your lives?
I feel incredibly blessed to get to be my 4 daughters adopted mom. Although as I have learned more about transracial adoption especially from the adult adoptee’s perspective I realize that my children will face extra challenges regardless of how much I work to make sure their culture of origin is represented and valued in their lives simply because they are no longer directly connected through me as their parent to their culture. I am working more on myself to prepare emotionally to handle any feelings of resentment, anger, or betrayal they might experience as they get older so that I can respond in an understanding and loving way instead of feeling rejected or defensive. Race was not a factor I considered in taking placements and I’m still glad I chose to say yes to each placement I’ve had the privilege to care for but I regret that this may cause further pain or trauma for my kids. I also work to not use the adoption of my daughters to center or elevate myself and instead focus on how amazing the kids are and how hard they work to overcome. With a transracial adoption I think that it’s easier to become more elevated as the adoptive parent simply because it is obvious to outsiders that your children were adopted because you all don’t look alike. I have heard that it’s important to adoptee’s to not feel like their parents used them or their story to gain recognition or praise for adopting them. I have learned a lot from the adoptee’s voice since adopting my children and realized new challenges I wasn’t previously prepared for.
How do you plan to talk about adoption with the children?
My daughters from foster care are 7, 6, 2.5, and 1.5 years old so they each require different ways of discussing adoption especially since each of their stories are very different but we definitely try to make sure it’s an open topic of discussion just like anything else a family might talk about that is part of their lives. My girls frequently talk about when they or one of their sisters were adopted and retell the story. I try to make sure the narrative is accurate without making too much correction just so we can preserve that story but I also make room for any “negative” feeling that come up like missing their first family, other foster families they lived with, or even biological siblings. When they are talking about their own adoption story I try to ask questions to extend the conversation and give them additional information about their own story and birth family as age/stage appropriate so they can grow the narrative they hold of their life before joining our family. I allow them to verbalize traumas or negative feelings and experiences they had within their biological family and even compare and contrast those experiences with the ones they have now but I’m careful not to talk in a degrading way about their biological relatives.
What is the best part about adoption?
The best part about adoption is the privilege of getting a front row seat to my kids amazing lives forever.
What has been the hardest part of adoption?
The hardest part about adoption has been knowing the loss that my kid’s biological family holds because their rights to them were terminated. The loss that my children experience now and will experience in the future from being separated from the family and culture of birth is also really hard. I grieve for my kids and their families at the same time that I rejoice in being their chosen parent and this dynamic of joy and pain is hard.
What is your relationship like with the birth mother(s)?
My relationship with each of my daughter’s birth mothers is different. I have not met my 7 year old’s birth mom but I have emailed back and forth with her since early on when her child was placed with me. I send her picture through email and give her updates. She reaches out for updates occasionally and has also sent me her own early photos of our daughter. She is always kind and I’m hopeful that one day when our daughter is ready that we can all meet in person. My 6 year old’s birth mom I met once during the case at the first permanency conference she was very protective of her daughter but we built a rapport during that meeting and I gave her photos of her daughter because she had lost everything and didn’t have any. She cried on my chest when we were leaving and thanked me for taking care of her daughter. It was incredibly heart breaking and after that meeting the department never received contact from her again and were not able to locate her. It makes me sad that I don’t have a way to keep in touch with her and I hope that someday we are able to find her again. I often find myself looking out the window when driving around Waco watching to see her. I don’t know if I’d even recognize her but I still look. My 2.5 year old daughter’s birth mom was involved throughout the case. I would talk to her at visits and while waiting at court. I gave her printed photos and made sure her daughter had framed photo gifts to give her around holidays. Due to concern for safety of my family by the department we haven’t had physical contact since termination of parental rights but I was able to get the department to give her my email address and we have emailed back and forth a few times with me sharing updates about our daughter as I am able to safely share. I hope that as time goes on we are able to form some mutual trust and for a positive relationship between us so that we can have more contact. My youngest daughter that is 18 months birth mom did not have any contact with the department after her daughters birth. The department worked really diligently to locate her and produce contact with her but even with all of their efforts they were never able to find her. I never got to meet her and we have no pictures of her nor any way to get in touch with her. This scenario may seem easier but I know that one day my daughter will grieve this loss so much greater because of this aspect of her story. I have been able to have some contact with one of her biologic sibling’s adoptive parents and I hope that as we continue and grow that bond she will feel some sense of connection to biological family mediating some of the loss she will undoubtedly feel someday. I think her story will be the hardest to share with her as she gets old enough to understand because of the abandonment she experienced so early on. I believe any contact I can maintain for my adopted daughters with their birth family is important for their ability to continue to thrive as adoptees into and through adulthood.
What have been some of the most difficult questions to answer?
My 6 year old has asked questions about where her birth mom is and having to say I don’t know but we think she might be staying in Waco somewhere is so hard because I imagine how she feels knowing her Mom is so close but doesn’t try to see her. She also asks if her birth mom is safe and talks about worrying about this. Since I don’t actually know if she’s safe or even truly alive I can’t actually reassure her. I always try to be honest. I do say I hope she’s safe and that we can pray for her safety.
Describe the different emotions you experienced with each adoption.
Honestly most of all relief. Foster care is such a rollercoaster ride and it constantly feels like the next drop is just around the corner. After adoption though I know my kids are safely a part of my family forever. Next I would say there is a huge grief in knowing that I gained a daughter forever that day but others had to loose her for that to happen. This is especially felt for me when I receive the new birth certificate because the idea that my child’s birth parent’s names are removed replaced by mine as if they never existed is something I don’t think I’ll ever fully reconcile. I also allow myself to feel excited and happy on that day over the blessing of gaining a daughter.
Have there been specific struggles related to adoption for each of your children and similar milestones or ages?
We struggle with not having their family history or at least an accurate one especially related to health and learning/development related to genetics. They have each had some unique challenges and without a good family history it’s hard to figure out the cause and potential prognosis. Each of my daughters are incredibly intelligent and gifted in many ways which I feel has to also be attributed to their genetics but it’s hard not knowing whether they had family members that were skilled in certain sports or good at mathematics or extremely empathetic. For many people they can say all the women on their mom’s side of the family had certain health conditions or that their Aunt was a track star or their grandma and mom were both such natural caretakers. My adopted daughter’s don’t have the privilege of that information but hopefully as we grow a relationship with their birth families we can gain some of that insight.
What are some of the unique issues you feel like you have experienced with adoption that you think other prospective adoptive parents should know?
I think first and foremost prospective adoptive parents should know that the goal of foster care is not adoption and so you should not plan to “foster to adopt.” It’s important to prepare your heart for reunification if you are fostering because that’s always the primary goal in the beginning even if it sounds like the department doesn’t really think that is what’s in the child’s best interest. The judge can rule in favor of reunification even if the department recommends termination of parental rights and outside adoption. It’s important to be able to still deeply love plus build and maintain attachment with a child in your care even if you might not adopt them. I also believe it’s important not to adopt to fulfill your own emotional needs. As a parent I have to be okay emotionally as an individual and a mom even when my kid isn’t okay. It’s not my child’s role to make me feel fulfilled and I think adoptees can really resent the idea that they were adopted for a purpose that serves their adoptive parents. I love serving my children as a parent and I expect them to treat me with the same kindness and respect they should expect from others. I don’t however get to rely on my adopted children to make me happy or fulfilled by their accomplishments or the love and gratefulness that they reciprocate me with for what I do for them. It’s important to seek counseling before choosing the potential of adoption.
What advice would you give to prospective adoptive parents?
First I would encourage adoptive parents that the permanency that adoption brings to their child’s life will allow them to see so much progress and to remember to be open to and expectant of positive growth in their child behavior as well as their overall development after adoption. Next I would remind them to monitor their expectations of their children and their definition of success. I think it’s good for your kids to know that you expect them to demonstrate positive behaviors just like any other child especially ones that will help them have positive experiences in society and outside your home like showing kindness and respect to others or using good table manners. At the same time though it’s important to keep in mind that your adopted child may struggle at times to meet these expectations because of experiences or exposures they have had in the past even before birth. On days or in moments when they don’t meet your expectation remind yourself that it isn’t a reflection of your success as a parent or their ability to be successful in the future. Let them and yourself start over the next day or even the next hour without expecting failure which will allow them to see that you believe they can succeed and they will start to believe they can too. Long term I would warn adoptive parents to allow their children to help guide what their success looks like moving into their teens and young adulthood. I think sometimes we set them up for failure when we project a specific picture of what a successful adult looks like. College or even athletics is not for everyone even if they seem to be gifted in areas that would allow them to do those things well. Listen to your child’s voice about what is important to them and help them investigate ways to make that happen that they are passionate about. A child who constantly feels like a failure is much more likely to fail than a child who feels empowered to chase their own vision of success. Lastly I’d remind adoptive parents that just like with biological children adoptive children can face major struggles in their lives that may or may not be related to their genetic or trauma history and our unconditional love is their best hope in overcoming or working through whatever those struggles might be. If you choose to see their negative choices or behaviors or even mental health problems as a rejection of your parenting efforts or blame it on their biological family history and genetics then your child is much less likely to find the strength to do better. Your unconditional love and support will do more for them than anything else in their lives in helping them make positive changes and allowing them to know they are never alone in their struggles even if they aren’t seeking you out for support or direction.