On Saturday, 14 local children will celebrate becoming part of “forever families,” during an Arlington ceremony for National Adoption Day.
Nine families will gather at the Arlington County Courthouse tomorrow (November 17) in recognition of their adoptions being finalized this year. All of the children had previously been in foster care.
There are currently about 100 children in foster homes in Arlington, most of them having been removed from their birth parents due to unfit living conditions. Although the goal is to ultimately reunite the children with their birth families once situations improve, that is not always the best option for the safety of the children involved. The children who will not return to their birth families are then cleared for adoption.
Social workers are involved throughout the process to assess the needs of each individual child and to help find a family that is a good match. Nakejah Allen, who is an adoption social worker in Arlington, said it’s a challenge to find the right fit.
“For the kids that are in foster care, there has often been something that has happened to them,” Allen said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of helping adoptive families to understand the trauma and how that can affect attachment.”
Allen said two other significant challenges include finding homes for children ages 13 and older, and finding parents willing to adopt siblings. Melody Smith and her husband, Christian, adopted a brother and sister who had been in foster care in Arlington, and they’ll be celebrating at tomorrow’s Adoption Day ceremony.
“I’m also from a very large family and the thought of them separating siblings breaks my heart,” Melody said. “We started the process thinking about a single child, but after hearing the stats and information, we felt if we could do that we would go that route.”
The Smiths live in Newport News and were placed with the children via an adoption agency and the help of Arlington’s Department of Human Services. For three months, the couple traveled to Arlington three times a week to meet with the children. The kids finally moved in with the Smiths around Christmas last year, and the adoption became official about a month ago.
“We didn’t even tell them [the kids] the day it became official. My wife came crying to me at work because it became official, but as far as they’re concerned, the day they moved in it was official,” Christian said.
Although Melody and Christian’s children had been removed from their birth parents’ home due to severe neglect, the children’s grandmothers had been loving and nurturing. Melody credits one of the grandmothers with keeping alive their daughter, who was only born with one kidney and it wasn’t fully functioning. The family continues to meet with the grandmothers, as well as the foster family with whom the children had been living prior to the Smiths.
“They [the neglectful parents] don’t think about everyone else it affects,” Melody said, “For the grandparents to lose a grandchild because of someone else’s actions, that’s not fair.”
Allen said there are a number of instances of adopted children keeping ties with birth families or foster families.
“Just because you’ve been adopted doesn’t mean you’re losing anyone, you’re just gaining a family,” she said.
The Smiths say they were incredibly lucky to have been placed with good kids who took to them right away. They realize not every situation turns out so well. They also noted that there’s a chance the children — a 4-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy — may struggle with the thought of having been taken from their birth family as they get a bit older.
“We got really lucky. There are some horrible stories out there, but our kids attached to us the first time we met them,” Christian said. “We eventually will have hard questions to answer. Our son is old enough to remember some of it but I think he chooses not to.”
The Smiths are grateful their adoption process went relatively quickly, but they noted it’s not easy. In order for social workers to ensure parents are fit to adopt, the process involves background tests, drug tests, home inspections and rounds of interviews.
“Thankfully, we both have jobs where our bosses are supportive and our family was supportive,” Melody said. “You definitely need a good support system, but it’s 100 percent worth it. The first time that little face comes running and calling you mom and dad, it’s just… it’s just unbelievable.”
After all that effort to be approved, the waiting for a match begins.
“The waiting is horrible. You wait, you wait, you wait for months. Then you get matched and then you wait longer,” Christian said. Some people think it’s easy and it’s not. But it’s completely worth it in the long run. You’re giving kids who do not have a home a forever family. It’s very hard and it can be very frustrating, but it is completely worth it. ”
Anyone interested in making a difference in a child’s life by becoming a foster parent or adopting can visit Arlington County’s foster care website, or call the Department of Human Services at 703-228-1550 for more information.