In an instant, a forever family of five: One couple tells their foster-adopt family journey

Families grow in all different ways and at all different paces. Jaime and Scott were a family of two when they first attended an informational adoption event in September of 2015. Just a little more than a year later they had adopted three children aged ten and younger, their forever family of five made legal in December of 2016. They were kind enough to talk with Ovia about how they came to grow their family in this way, what they wish they had known prior, and the advice they have for others considering adoption.

We’d love if you could introduce our readers to your family. What brought you to fostering and adoption? How did you let your family and friends know that you were growing a family in this way? And, perhaps most importantly, what are your children up to these days?

Our kiddos are 13, 7, and 6 now. They were 10, 4, and 3 when they moved in.

We are a foster-adopt family. This was our first choice to make a family. It just made the most sense for us and was a very intentional choice. We knew we wanted to ultimately have 2 to 3 kids and figured that this way we could help keep a sibling group together, which is typically more difficult. We also both knew that we did not care to have an infant, and I (Jaime) did not want to be pregnant. Once I finished my master’s degree program, we knew we were ready to be parents, or as ready as one can ever be.

We announced to everyone that this was our choice when we enrolled in the Massachusetts Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP) class, which is training that’s required if you want to foster or adopt a child in our state. We honestly didn’t face too much negative feedback aside from a couple comments asking if we were sure we didn’t want to have any biological kids. Spoilers: We don’t.

Our 7-year-old can read now, and it’s been really fun to watch as she’s learned that. Our 6-year-old is such a great helper, and he loves to cook with mom or help dad do home improvement projects. Our oldest has fallen hard and fast into sports and loves Broadway musicals almost as much as we do. She’s truly dedicated to her teams, which is great to see.

Can you tell me a little about the fostering and adoption process and the timeline of how things unfolded for your family?

It was honestly a pretty quick timeline. We sought out information at the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE) Adoption Option event – where we coincidentally met the woman who was to be our social worker – and then started MAPP class only a month later in October 2015. By November 2015 our kids had been identified as ours and we began the process of getting them home. We were officially licensed in early January of 2016 and the day we were licensed we were asked to host an emergency foster. Disclosure was February 2016. Our transition with our kids began in March 2016, they moved in permanently in early April 2016, and the adoption was finalized December 2016.

What were some of the more notable challenges you faced along the way and how did you work through them?

One of the bigger challenges was getting everyone who might babysit our kids CORIed (or subject to a Criminal Offender Record Investigation check by the state of Massachusetts), which is a strenuous check and takes a long time. This is because while they were in foster care with us, which was ultimately about 9 months, our kids couldn’t be left alone with anyone who wasn’t CORIed. This meant that we couldn’t really have any time together without the kids, which was rough. We gave each other time off to get out with friends, which helped.

Other difficulties have been finding mental health care for our kids. Given the history of any kid from foster care, therapeutic services are pretty important. We sought services for the older two immediately and for our youngest a bit later, due to age. We hit every roadblock imaginable in finding stable services for our kids – and at this point, between three kids, they have worked with at least six therapists and five therapeutic mentors. The turnover rates have been incredibly high, and given the struggles we faced, we didn’t feel we were in a place to pick and choose, whereas now I will take a long waitlist rather than chance even more instability.

The other difficulty has been juggling our time. Going from zero kids to three kids was tough in a lot of ways, but the most difficult part is managing who is where when. Our kids were 3, 4, and 10 when they moved in, and as such were old enough for preschool, elementary school, and extracurricular activities. We thought it was important to help them find activities or sports that made them happy, proud, and a part of our local community, so we joined the YMCA and got them into different sports of their choosing. This, however, represented at least 6 trips in the car, not to mention therapy services, doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, and any other typical trips to the grocery store. We also both work, though I have gone down to part-time to better accommodate our kids’ schedules, so days when I can to curl up with a book are few and far between. Another challenge is finding one-on-one time with each kid on a regular basis, as they definitely love and benefit from it.

Also, we had very few friends with kids when we began the adoption process, so we realistically knew very little about kids. I think we went to Target every day for the first month they were home. “Oh, three-year-olds could still use a booster seat at the kitchen table…”

And did you face any notable surprises?

Our youngest kiddo is gender fluid, so rolling with the punches with that at preschool and within the community was interesting. Everyone was very supportive and inclusive, taking this information in stride.

Your kids weren’t babies when they joined your family, but you were fortunate to be able to take parental leave when they did – and we know this can be an important part of the adoption process regardless of the age of the child. How did you handle parental leave? And what did you focus on during that time?

We took leave beginning immediately when they moved in in April 2016. We staggered our leave, so Scott took his six weeks of parental leave first. I had four weeks, but I actually only used three, just enough to finish off my school year (I’m a teacher) because then I had the summer off.

We started the kiddos in preschool part-time immediately because they had otherwise had little pre-academic background, and this also gave the parent who was off a bit of downtime during the day, which was so important for our sanity, especially given the inability to have babysitters in those early days.

We used this time to cocoon our kiddos as well, keeping their new world small and introducing new family members slowly. They didn’t meet almost anyone for about a month.

What are some meaningful new rituals that you’ve incorporated into your family life?

Vacationing. We were very careful to try to maintain our pre-kid lifestyle as much as possible once our kids came home. We still take a lot of trips and do the same kinds of things we did before kids, but now the children are included. We bring them to museums, cities, lakes, shows, festivals. They love all of it. We might wear them in a Tula for part of it, but they definitely enjoy themselves.

Every day as a parent brings new challenges, but also new joys. What are you most enjoying about being a parent these days?

Sharing things we love with our kids brings me joy – for instance, we have put a lot of work into sharing theatre and specifically musicals with them. They have all seen various productions since they moved in with us and at 6, 7, and 13 are finally all old enough to sit well throughout and enjoy a full Broadway show. We took them to Aladdin this past summer, and they adored it and were better behaved than some adults. Upcoming, we’ll see The Hip Hop Nutcracker and Cinderella as a family. Our oldest loves theater as well, and her birthday gifts were Mean Girls and Be More Chill on Broadway.

Is there anything about adoption that you wish you had known more about before beginning the process? And what advice would you give to prospective parents considering fostering children or growing their family through adoption?

I would definitely go into it with an open mind.

I over-prepare by nature, so I read a ton of books about adoption, childhood trauma, parenting kids from foster care and adoptees, and ‘connected’ or empathetic parenting. This left me feeling pretty prepared for what lay ahead. I would read books on trauma and the ways that affects a child regardless of the age at which they were adopted. This helped us immensely. I particularly enjoyed books on this topic by Deborah D. Gray.

I do wish more people knew about trauma and the types of adoption. Adoption is loss, inherently, for the child and biological family, regardless of the reason the child is being adopted. I think if more people knew this, they may seek foster care adoption. I think that adoption from foster care is often overlooked, particularly in favor of adopting a baby through private domestic adoption – and I would like people to know that adopting a baby is still a possibility in foster care, in a process called concurrent planning.

Seek out a support system, be it through supportive friends and family, your church, your community. This has been very important to us. We have a great network of friends and babysitters who help us keep our sanity, vacation with our family, and are just there for us when we need them. We also got very lucky with our social workers. We had two because our initial worker was on maternity leave for part of our time working with Child & Family Services of Massachusetts. Both were awesome, and our kiddos’ worker was responsive and helpful as well.

And I wish we had known how quickly it would actually happen! We were prepared to wait a couple of years and instead everything moved so fast!

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