While fostering 1- and 3-year-old sibling boys, the goal was to reunite them with their family in a healthy and safe environment. As a foster parent, my job was to do what I could to facilitate and support that while the boys were placed with my family. During this time, the boys’ biological parents worked on providing safe housing, steady work, counseling, etc., which are items set by the state in order to get permanent custody of their children back.
During that time, I took the boys to scheduled visits and helped them heal and thrive. After a few months, it became evident that things weren’t going well as far as the reunification process went. While I was doing all I could to perform the tasks asked of me, the guardian of the boys we were fostering, was not.
After months of missed visits, and failure to make progress on the requirements set by the state of Utah, it became clear that it would be in the best interests of the children to move from the original goal of reunification, to adoption. This came as a surprise to me initially since I had always believed that the boys would go back to live with some member of their family. However, when I was asked if the sweet boys that I had come to love over the many months of living together could join my family permanently, my family and I decided that we would give the boys everything we could, which was a forever family, and moved forward with the adoption process.
The process was not easy or short, but manageable enough with the help of compassionate social workers, persistent legal counsel and lots of patience. We were required to take some additional training classes that addressed some of the potential issues that can come up during or after adoption and assigned a post adoption worker whom we still keep in contact with. They offer services and invaluable advice to adoptive parents for years after the adoption to help with any bumps that might show up down the road and provide support. I was a little worried about the cost of adoption because we were adopting two, but I was pleasantly surprised at how affordable it was. Many people are not aware that the state of Utah will reimburse most, if not all of the cost for adopting children through foster care.
In June of 2019, a few months after the state had changed its goal from reunification to adoption, I rushed into the Utah county courthouse. I was prepared to sit through another court hearing where the guardian of the boys was scheduled to come in and present her case against the state attorneys who had asked for early termination of their parental rights. Typically guardians have about a year to work with the state to get full custody of their children back. This time frame can be extended if the guardian/s are showing adequate effort, or shortened if the opposite is true and/or the children are young enough that the state has determined that the long process would be harmful for the child.
On my way out of the courtroom, I ran into the boys’ mother, and she stopped, looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Please continue to take good care of my boys,” and then continued out the doors.
With my head spinning, I was met by our case social worker who informed me that court was over, and their mother had signed over her parental rights and asked that her sons be placed with our family permanently. I felt the strangest sensation of joy and fear unlike anything I’ve ever felt in my life. I was happy that the boys I had come to love so strongly would be mine forever, and afraid that my life’s trajectory had been completely altered in a single moment, and that I would soon be eternally responsible for the lives of two more little people.
This feeling was similar to what I had felt when finding out that I was going to become a mother for the first time but without the months of build up that I’d experienced in that case. I called my husband and told him that he needed to find a good lawyer. His baffled, slightly fearful response of “What in the world happened?!” was followed by an excited whoop of joy when I told him moments later was because he was going to be a dad again.
On January 6, 2020 we adopted the boys that had arrived on our doorstep in late September of 2018, Extended family joined us for the joyous occasion where Gabe and Noah legally joined our family, and it was a happy moment for all involved. We had the blessings of their biological family whom we still keep in contact with.
Though the journey was full of ups and downs, and twists and turns that I had never seen coming, becoming a foster parent and adoptive parent has been one of the most rewarding journeys of my life.
For those of you who are considering becoming a foster or adoptive parent, I strongly encourage you to visit utahfostercare.org, or youthvillage.org. Staff are happy to answer any questions you might have about the process. There are always kids out there, closer than you could ever imagine, who desperately need a safe harbor from storms in this life that are far beyond their control and ability to weather on their own.
Being part of the community of people who has opened their home to be that shelter to children in need is something I am incredibly proud of and has changed me irrevocably for good. I promise it will be the same for you, even if you think you can’t right now, you might be surprised to learn that you qualify and there are always opportunities to help the children in our communities. Reach out today and make a difference in the life of a local child for good.
*NOTE: This is the continuation of a story that began in January where Ariel Higgs wrote about her journey adopting two boys who she and her husband fostered. In this article, Higgs writes about the goal of reunification that ultimately led her and her husband to adopt their sons.*