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Darcy Moran captured their stories in this MLive article “Tis the season to consider adoption and foster parenting, officials say.”
'Tis the season to consider adoption and foster parenting, officials say
By Darcie Moran
ANN ARBOR, MI - On Thanksgiving Day, the kids may have gotten a pass to head out with a support individual - someone deemed to have a positive impact.
But it's likely Keven, 17, Dayjah, 16, Antonio, 14, and Stephen, 8, had dinner with other children in the group residential facilities where they live.
They're the children in Washtenaw County open for adoption, but without identified families, state health and human service officials say. And though the four have all been in the system for years, they hope that, given the season and National Adoption Awareness Month, families might come forward to give the children something to be thankful for.
It's the time of year when people are already reflecting on the importance of family, said Diana Moore, executive director for Lutheran Adoption Service, the non-profit agency that handles their cases.
"It's hard for the social workers to know that they're not experiencing what most people are experiencing around the holidays," Moore said. "It's something that's become their norm - not that that's okay - which is all the more reason ... we really need people interested in adoptions."
Many children in the foster system have families identified or goals of reunification with their birth parents, but 300 children in Michigan are like Keven, Dayjah, Antonio and Stephen - up for adoption but without families identified, said Katie Page Sander, executive director of the non-profit child welfare agency Hands Across The Water.
"These are kids, if they are old enough, who have expressed wanting, desiring a family and so far no one has stepped forward," she said.
There's a need for families who are interested in adopting older children, as well as those with special needs or larger sibling groups, she said. Those children typically wait the longest for adoptive families or age out of foster care without ever finding one.
Kids also have a say in their plan, said Moore. At 16 they can request to no longer seek adoption.
"I think they honestly do that because they don't think they're adoptable," Moore said, adding that it's untrue. "They're protecting themselves from rejection."
When kids do find families, it's overwhelming to see the joy when the adoption is finalized, said Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge Carol Kuhnke, who handles adoptions for the court and is an adoptive mother herself. It's one of the few positive outcomes that happen in the building and the rewards are "just too great to number," she said.
"Adoption gives you more back than what you put into it," she said. "It's just a very fulfilling way to build a family."
She said people don't have to be perfect parents to adopt and can learn more by speaking to adoption agencies.
Those agencies also need foster parents, a role that typically needs to be filled by prospective parents before they adopt a child, said Sander, of Hands Across The Water.
About 13,700 children were in foster care in Michigan at the end of September, including 139 in Washtenaw County, according to data provided by the MDHHS.
The need is so great that in recent weeks that when four children, between 18 months old and 6 years old, were turned over, there were no foster options available in Washtenaw County, Sander said. The agency had to consider whether to split up siblings or place them elsewhere.
"It seems to me that in a county as resource rich and as wonderful as Washtenaw County that we should never have kids with nowhere to go," she said.
In a video on the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange website, where prospective parents can search factors from a child's gender to their level of disability, Dayjah explained her favorite movie is "Beetlejuice" and her favorite color is hot pink. Keven likes to pretend he's a sports commentator when he watches games, according to the site, while Antonio listens to gospel rap and Stephen likes to draw.
Dayjah said she wants to do "normal" family things - watch movies, go shopping, and have parents cheer her on at her basketball games.
"I just want a forever home, a caring home, a family that actually want me in their home and takes me as their own kid," she said.