“What makes these kids so unique is that they know what they don’t have: They really want to be part of a healthy family.”
— Carrie Lauterbach, Adoption Plus
After a risky pregnancy some years back, Cyndi McDaniel was advised by doctors not to have any more children. But even though she’d already birthed three healthy babies, she still wanted a bigger family.
Millions of prospective parents, meanwhile, are unable to have children at all. According to a fact sheet from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “Infertility affects 6.1 million American women and their partners, about 10 percent of the reproductive-age population.”
After exploring fertility treatments, some frustrated would-be parents choose to retool their dream, opting to adopt a newborn who looks like them. But many soon discover that even this isn’t so easy.
Cyndi and husband Jason McDaniel, an account executive for the United Parcel Service, decided to adopt a white baby girl.
“Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way,” Cyndi explains.
Healthy newborns, she learned, are in considerable demand. Often there are waiting lists, and many adoption agencies charge thousands of dollars in fees — as much as $18,500, according to Amy Johnson of the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina. Add in traveling expenses and additional legal fees, and adopting a foreign baby can cost substantially more.
But McDaniel also found that there are hundreds of children in the foster-care system who are hungry for a loving, stable home. “You don’t realize how needy so many children are,” she declares. “It’s so fulfilling watching children heal under your care.”
In the last four years, the McDaniels have fostered about 46 children. They’ve just finalized their fourth adoption; their diverse family includes a son with multiple disabilities and an African-American daughter (the McDaniels are white).
November was National Adoption Awareness Month. But for many children, the lack of loving, caring parents is a daily reality. In Buncombe County alone, some 250 children are now in custody due to parental abuse and neglect; about 50 of them are fully cleared by the courts for adoption, reports Erica Jourdan, recruitment specialist for foster and adoptive parents at the Department of Social Services.
“There’s such a need for kids to have nurture and attachment and attention to their special needs,” she says. “When you adopt a child you’ve fostered, you already know what they’ve been through. You’re the first person who’s provided a safe, loving home, and it’s wonderful and amazing to help them.”
Many couples looking to adopt are afraid to take in a child from the foster-care system. But Carrie Lauterbach of the Adoption Plus agency says 1993 legislation cleared away many of the barriers to finding permanent homes for children in foster care. “These children were labeled unadoptable,” she says, “because they’re older, have special needs, are minorities, or have emotional problems or large sibling groups. What makes these kids so unique is that they know what they don’t have: They really want to be part of a healthy family.”
Although the DSS can recommend that a family should lose parental rights over a child, a judge makes the final call. The birth family usually has about a year to solve the problems in the home so the child can return.
“When a child can’t safely reunify with the family, then we continue to look for placement within the extended family,” explains Becky Kessel, social-work program coordinator for the Buncombe County DSS. “If we can’t find a placement, then the child will be eligible for outside adoption.” That process usually takes about a year (longer if the birth parents file an appeal).
Each time a child is removed from a home, he or she is set back four to six months developmentally, notes Jourdan. “So what a child knew in their old home, they might not know in their new home. They might not remember potty training if they had just learned it,” she reveals.
Babies are special, concedes 10-year foster parent Rosalee Hall, and some kids who wind up in foster care may have problems. But with babies, there’s no way of knowing whether they’ll develop problems later on. “At least with an older child, you know up front what you’re dealing with,” she observes.
Helping a kid through rough times requires a special kind of patience. “It’s not all glitz and glory,” McDaniel warns. “There’s a lot of stuff you have to watch them go through.” One baby under her care, she recalls, cried 18 hours a day for six months because of problems caused by exposure to cocaine while in the womb. “Luckily, I have one of the most awesome husbands,” McDaniel exclaims. “He will get up in the middle of the night and help get the children to sleep.”
For Hall, too, the rewards of adoption outweigh any negatives. Recalling the woman who signed over her parental rights to her newborn baby to Hall two years ago, the adoptive mother proclaims, “One of the most humbling things I’ve ever felt in my life is when a person chooses me to raise their child.”
Not every adoption story has such a happy ending. Xpress would also like to hear from families who’ve experienced problems with the foster-care and adoption bureaucracy. If you have a tale to tell concerning social services and the legal system, call Cecil Bothwell at 251-1333, ext. 115 (e-mail: email@example.com). Please put “family law” in the subject line of e-mails.