Every morning for the past six months, Ben* woke up and marked another day off the family calendar in the kitchen, counting down the days until he and his younger sister Maya* would officially be a Johnson*. It had been two years since Ben, age 8, and Maya, age 6, came to live with the Johnson family through foster care and they were ready to be a forever family at last.
Typically, adoptions take place in a courtroom filled with the love and support of the many people present: the adoptive family and adoptee(s), the judge, the family services worker, the court-appointed special advocate and extended family and friends. It’s an unforgettable day filled with hugs, family photos and celebrations. But the coronavirus pandemic led to a reimagining of adoption hearings. Our Foster In Texas team continues to support adoptive families as many adoptions have transitioned to Zoom or telephone. Last month, our team celebrated reaching a milestone of 50 virtual adoptions.
“Adoption day is monumental for families,” said Kaytlin Wyatt, a Foster In Texas Amarillo family services worker. “A child is officially becoming a part of their forever family. It’s different now that we’re separate from each other, but I still get to see their joy on screen and the next day I still call them up and ask, ‘How does it feel to officially be [the family’s last name]?’. It’s amazing hearing those responses and knowing I played a part in making that happen.”
On the morning of their adoption day, the Johnsons wore matching shirts, waiting in excitement in their living room as they gathered shoulder to shoulder around their computer. In just a few minutes, their dreams would come true. But the court proceeding before theirs took longer than expected, and their adoption was rescheduled for the next day. Tears were shed, but they knew their moment was coming soon. The next day, the family gathered again around the computer and smiled as they watched the court proceedings that would officially make them a family. Their extended family members were able to join the call as well, including the teacher who first guided their adoptive mom to a foster care agency and their aunt, who lived in another state. The judge hit the gavel and said the words they had all been longing to hear, ‘You’re now a Johnson!’ Maya wrapped her arms around her mom and Ben’s entire body lit up with joy.
“The stability we craved for two years was finally there,” said Sarah* Johnson, their adoptive mom. “Even though it was different than how we originally thought, it was still incredible.”
Foster In Texas provides families with post adoption services like counseling as they transition from foster care to adoption. If families decide to open their homes to additional children, family services workers continue to visit them at home and assist when needed. “I always let them know they can call me anytime because family services workers are the only ones who know everything about that child’s journey to adoption,” said Kaytlin.
A Winding Path to Adoption
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) helped the family stay together during their two-year adoption journey by advocating for them and prioritizing what was best for the children.
Before finding Upbring, the Johnsons struggled to get the support they needed from caseworkers, from having one based in a city hundreds of miles away to not having one at all for a time. After doing a lot of research, Sarah switched from her first agency to Upbring. “I picked Upbring because they had a better timeline and seemed more personable and equipped to support our family,” said Sarah. “Now, I have excellent support. I can call Kaytlin from Upbring at any time, and she answers even when she’s not on the clock.”
When Ben first entered foster care, he had a lot of trauma to process from his birth family. Sarah recounts calling her sister in the middle of the night the first time he had a bad dream that wasn’t trauma-related, but just an ordinary, fictional bad dream. “Fostering is hard,” shared Sarah. “It’s amazing. It’s a two-sided blade. Watching him work through that and supporting him on his journey brought us even closer together.” Maya remembered some of her trauma as well but is now thriving.
“They are resilient, amazing kids,” said Sarah. “Ben loves life, he loves to play soccer. I can’t imagine life without him now. Maya is our in-house comedian. She walked right in and filled a void that we didn’t even know existed. I couldn’t have handpicked better children to fit in our family.”
For Sarah’s biological children, Jake* and Ava*, becoming foster siblings has been an incredible experience. They both adjusted quickly to their new younger siblings, and there was a natural sense of camaraderie from the beginning. “Nothing felt forced,” said Sarah. “It was meant to be. The connections and bonds they’ve built have been strong and organic.”
“Sarah has incredible faith,” said Kaytlin. “They’re open to the needs of each child that comes into their home. They fall in love with each child that comes through their door, but they’re also committed to doing what’s best for that child even if it means they reunite with their biological family. They desire for what’s best for that individual child. That’s an essential quality for foster families.”
The Johnsons have cared for nine kids so far and intend to keep fostering and adopting. They are currently fostering a 15-month-old and an 18-month-old. Sarah puts it this way: “I had plans for my foster journey and God had plans for my foster journey. My initial plan was to adopt one baby. I think God used that desire on my heart to pull me in. Since then, I’ve fostered teens, babies, children — and I’ve enjoyed and loved each one. We pray about each placement. We don’t know when our foster care journey will end, but we know it’s not yet. It’s important work. The need is out there.”
Become a Foster Parent
There are still children entering foster care every day during the pandemic. If you have a heart for supporting the Texas children who need it most, consider becoming a foster parent or giving to the Foster In Texas program.
*The Johnson’s story is true, but we used pseudonyms to protect the family’s privacy.