On Nov. 3, 2016, I walked through the doors of Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center a shell of my former self.
I was attending an uplifting event — the 15th annual Austin Adoption Day, where the city celebrates the creation of “forever families” for children being adopted out of the foster care system — but I was hurting.
The two little girls my husband and I had been foster parents to over the course of an 18-month CPS case and had, for a portion of the case, expected to adopt had just gone back to their biological mother.
At times I felt as empty as the upstairs bedroom where the girls had played, which was disturbingly quiet and void of giggles now that they were gone.
I don’t know why I decided to attend Adoption Day that morning. Maybe because I had some friends going. Maybe because I wanted to make sure I didn’t become bitter. Or maybe, and I think this is the main reason, I needed to see that happy endings were possible.
As I watched the judges declare smiling groups of once unfamiliar people “forever families,” I actually started to feel like myself again.
I talked to people. I let myself laugh. I wrote a story about the event.
None of the families I talked to that day said getting to Adoption Day was easy. But all of them said it was worth it.
Adoption Day, as it turned out, was about love and hope, sure, but also strength and perseverance.
Rather than giving up, I thought, maybe my husband and I and our two biological daughters, then 8 and 5, should try fostering again.
Soon after, we heard about an almost-4-year-old little boy who adored Batman and was in need of a home.
We decided to take a chance.
We transformed the empty bedroom upstairs into a Batcave. We bought every superhero toy we could find. And when he joined our household two days before Christmas, we celebrated.
After the excitement of the holidays was over, reality set in.
Rather than using many words to communicate, our foster son preferred to whine, a survival mechanism he must have developed after years of not being listened to.
Some of our rules were foreign to him, as were some of our traditions.
For those first few months, we rarely heard his voice.
Then, at Easter, our daughters devised a family talent show.
When it was his turn on the backyard patio stage, he beautifully and hauntingly began to recite the words to his favorite song, an Elton John classic he had discovered in the movie “Sing”: “I’m Still Standing.”
He had found his voice.
These days, we get to hear that voice every day, talking incessantly about Batman and agonizing over which flavor of Popsicle to choose.
On Thursday, he used that voice inside a courtroom at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center at the 16th annual Austin Adoption Day to tell the judge he wanted to be part of our “forever family.” Austin Adoption Day is part of a nationwide effort to celebrate families that are welcoming new members from foster care and to draw attention to the continuing need for foster and adoptive homes; we were among 30 families who adopted a total of 44 children at this year’s event.
So what is a “forever family,” anyway?
“It means I get to stay at my new house,” our son said. “Forever.”
As I watched him pose for pictures with his sisters, with whom he now shares a last name, his smile once again reminded me of Steven, the little boy I met as a child who inspired me to become a foster parent in the first place.
What a journey it’s been.
I know there will still be many times when we need to rely on strength and perseverance in addition to hope and love. But I also now know that happy endings exist.
I’m so glad I attended last year’s Adoption Day and learned that lesson. And I’m so glad to be standing here today as a “forever family.”
Most of all, I’m so glad we took a chance on a Batman-loving little boy.
And that he took a chance on us.
MORE ON FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION
Read Kristin Finan’s four-part series about what it’s like to be a foster parent at mystatesman.com/fostercare.
Interested in being a foster parent or adopting out of foster care?
There are more than 3,900 children in Texas and 119 in Travis County waiting to be adopted.
In order to become a foster parent, you must be 21 years old, have a valid driver’s license and proof of automobile insurance, be a U.S. citizen or legal resident, have a high school diploma or GED and be able to pass criminal history, child abuse registry and FBI fingerprint checks. You do not have to be married to become a foster parent.
There are more than a dozen foster care agencies in the Austin area that offer training, including Helping Hand Home (helpinghandhome.org), DePelchin (depelchin.org/austin), A World for Children (awfc.org), the Bair Foundation (bair.org), SAFE (safeaustin.org), Angelheart (angelheartkids.org), Starry (starry.org), Arrow (arrow.org), Settlement Home for Children (settlementhome.org), Presbyterian Children’s Homes (texas.pchas.org) and Upbring (upbring.org). The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services also has resources available at dfps.state.tx.us.
More ways to help
Carrying Hope: After watching foster children arrive to her door with nothing, reporter Kristin Finan co-founded a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Carrying Hope, that makes Hope Packs filled with comfort items and essentials for children who are entering the foster care system. Learn more at carryinghope.com.
CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates groups in Central Texas are in need of volunteers to advocate for abused or neglected children. In order to become a CASA, you must be 21 and pass extensive reference, Child Protective Services, sex offender registry and criminal background checks. You may not be a current foster parent or be in the process of adopting a child from Child Protective Services. If you are an attorney, you may not concurrently be appointed to any cases involving Child Protective Services. Learn more at casatravis.org/volunteer, CASA of Williamson County, casawilco.org, or CASA of Central Texas, casacentex.org.