My mom has always said I was put on this earth to be a dad. Today I am a father thanks to my sons Michael and Angel and support from UMFS.
My husband Stacey and I celebrated our seventeenth anniversary this past January. We’ve always loved spending time with our families, nieces, and nephews, but knew we wanted children of our own. When we moved to Richmond in 2016, we decided to begin that journey.
We called four agencies that we found through an online search, and out of all of them, UMFS was the only one that called us back. That first communication revealed how supportive UMFS would be every step of the way.
Fostering to Adopt is an Option
We soon learned that our first placement would be a 16-year-old. Like many people who become foster parents, we felt somewhat apprehensive about being placed with a teenager. But when we received details about what Michael had been through – living in group homes, getting in trouble with the law for just trying to survive – our hearts broke, and we knew we wanted to share our home with him before he aged out of the system.
We were surprised to learn that he had been practically living in our backyard, just fifteen minutes away. Michael had been walking to school, two miles each way, just to have a warm place to stay for eight hours of the day, while managing to maintain good grades.
Michael will be twenty-one in June, and he will graduate from Brightpoint Community College (formerly John Tyler Community College) with his associate degree. He plans on continuing his education at VCU this fall. He considered a few different career paths, but he kept going back to social work.
Michael feels that because of the lived experience he’s had in the foster care system, social work is where he needs to be. He wants to give back and become a mentor for kids who faced the same challenges he did and let them know that there’s hope. We’re so proud of him.
When Michael came to us, he was a bit shy and reserved, but we bonded quickly. People often point out that even though Michael joined our family as a teenager, it’s like we’ve had him since birth.
Fostering Teens through UMFS
For people considering foster care or adoption it’s important to keep in mind that every child and every experience is going to look different no matter the child’s. An older child deserves to have a family who loves and respects them just as they would a child of any age. I can’t imagine turning eighteen and not having that support and guidance that everyone needs to navigate the world as an adult.
Having the chance to see Michael thrive as a teenager, and now adult, has been so rewarding. Because Michael didn’t have to worry about where he was going to lay his head at night, he was able to think about things that a 16-year-old should be able to focus on – like going to school and learning how to drive. And as we’ve continued to grow our family, he’s been a great role model for his brothers.
Expanding the Family with the Support of UMFS
Michael had been with us two years when Angel joined our family at age eleven. Angel’s story has unfolded a bit differently. He had been in foster care since he was six and was put in sixteen placements before he came to us.
Because of the different challenges Angel faced, he carries more complex trauma. Stacey and I had to change our parenting style and use the tools and resources at our disposal, including UMFS.
For families considering fostering and adoption, it’s important to know that with many agencies, once an adoption is finalized, there are no post-adoption services. That can be scary because there’s a lot that can happen. UMFS stuck with us. The nonprofit connected us with intensive in-home therapy for Angel and classes for Stacey and me to learn more about what kind of traumas Angel faced.
Angel is thirteen now and still has challenging days, but he knows we love him and that we’re not giving up on him.
When Foster Care Isn’t About Adoption
In February, we were placed with our first foster placement that doesn’t have the goal of adoption. While things could change, the goal is reunification with this child’s birth family. Seeing this child grow and flourish in such a short period of time has been so gratifying and rewarding.
While it’s a little difficult knowing he may return to his birth family, we hope to make a positive impact on his life for however long he’s with us.
At age four, he has started childcare and preschool and is learning his numbers and letters. That’s something you can’t take away from him whether he goes back to his birth family or not – a stable and safe home environment that establishes a groundwork for fundamental skills that he can build on later in life.
It took us thirteen years into our relationship to become parents, but the wait was definitely worth it. It has brought us closer and has given us a different sense of family.