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November 2015Vol. 16, No. 8Commissioner's Page

The following is the monthly message from Rafael López, the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families. Each message focuses on the current Children's Bureau Express Spotlight theme and highlights the Bureau's work on the topic.

This year's National Adoption Month theme reminds us all that "We Never Outgrow the Need for Family." The 2015 initiative focuses on the importance of finding permanence for older youth in care and keeping adoption as a possibility for all youth. Permanence can mean many things—for many, it means having family you know you can count on to feel safe and loved. The Children's Bureau's job as a public-serving agency is to help ensure all children and youth have a loving family, no matter their age.

For this month's "Commissioner's Page," I would like to share the experiences of two older adopted youth. José, who is currently 21 years old, was adopted when he was age 18; Thomas, who is 22 years old, was adopted when he was 17. Their stories illustrate the positive impact of a stable family environment on the lives of youth in care, as well as the importance of never giving up on the idea of a loving, permanent home.

How did you come into contact with foster care, and what was your experience like?

José: A police officer found me in the street and took me to my area foster care. [My foster care experience] was good because they wanted to know me.

Thomas: I came in contact with the foster care system in 2004, following a shooting that occurred 3 days before my 11th birthday. At the time, I did not understand the foster care system, but I remember the anger I felt during the early months because I was away from my father. Looking back, I would say that I was so blessed to have a strong, consistent, and supporting cast who really took the time to see that I was properly cared for.

Do you have any siblings, and if so, can you share about them? How did your experiences in foster care affect your relationship with your sibling(s)? Do you keep in touch, and if so, how (phone calls, letters, social media, visits)?

José: I have two biological siblings and one by adoption. I don't know my biological siblings that well. I only know them by Facebook, and that's how I keep in touch with them. My adopted sister is a nerd, but fun to be around. We have an awesome relationship, and I see her regularly.

Thomas: Yes, I have one brother in my adoptive home, and I have three younger sisters and two older brothers from the biological side of my family. In my heart, we are all one family, and my foster care experience impacted all of our relationships in a good way. My [adoptive] brother was a close friend before I was adopted into the family. He basically experienced every foster home transition with me and was very helpful throughout every home. Having him there during the years I was hurting made me more grateful for him. It means a lot just being in the same family as him. I love my other siblings so much. There were so many nights I longed to have little sisters and older brothers. When I found out I had biological siblings, it was simply beautiful. For everyone, no matter how old we get, we will never lose contact.

Did your caseworker ask you if you wanted to be adopted?

José: Yes, she did and I said I wanted to be adopted.

Thomas: Yes, I made it clear at the age of 13 that I wanted a loving family to call my own.

Did your caseworker consult you about your wishes for a permanency plan, and do you feel you got to voice your opinions, wishes, questions, and concerns? What were your permanency or case plan goals?

José: We did discuss [a permanency plan], and my goal was to be with a family to come home to. They would ask me what I wanted in a family, and I would explain in detail what I wanted. I feel like they listened to me.

Thomas: Once I made it clear that I wanted to be adopted and that was my goal, we talked about it every meeting, and each worker did all they could to ensure it happened. I wanted my voice to be heard. I wanted them to know my plans, and I did not want anyone making plans without me. So, I would call my guardian ad litem before every court hearing just to tell her how I felt, and she gave me feedback on how she felt and what was best for me. We would agree on things, and she would go into court and state how we felt. She loved me that much, that no matter how young I was, she understood my voice and wanted to make sure I had joy.

Did your case plan include any provisions to help prepare you for a potential transition to independent living? Were you connected to tools, resources, and supports that were helpful? Have you had trouble accessing health care?

José: Yes, it did. Because we weren't sure if I was going to be adopted because I was older, I did skills [training] in the group home that supported me in how to maintain myself. I was supported by my group home parents but don't really remember being connected with other resources, and I haven't had any problems accessing health care.

Thomas: Honestly, many opportunities were presented for preparations to independent living in case I never got adopted, but I was so set on finding a family that I never took advantage of them. One thing I can say is that my supporting cast had my back and taught me how to handle real-life situations.

What does "permanency" mean to you?

José: Permanency means a home that I can go to and be loved and have support when I most need it.

Thomas: That word to me means love. I cannot count the times I cried for a home. After a while, you get tired of moving around, and you want to be loved. Nights where you want to be held, kissed on the forehead, or just hear the words I love you. I looked at permanency as a security blanket. I would never have the feeling of fear anymore because I know my mom or dad would never leave me.

Do you maintain any connections with your birth family or other supportive adults?

José: I had support, but their numbers would change or they would be offline. So, I just reach out to them through Facebook. [I still have] a little connection with my group home dad. I also have close connections with my adopted aunt and uncle and grandparents.

Thomas: Yes. From my birth family to all the adults I've had growing up, they are very supportive in all that I do. I'm just grateful to have them, honestly.

How do you feel about where you are in your life now?

José: Good. All I wanted came true.

Thomas: God could not have placed me in a better spot. At this point, [I feel] I went through the struggle to use my story to help out [other] youth. I'm just blessed to be where I am. I never thought I'd get this far. I am where I want other kids to be. Essentially, I want to help stop kids from feeling lonely.

Do you have any advice for older youth in foster care who are waiting to be adopted?

José: Never give up. Keep sharing your story because some day, someone will listen.

Thomas: Prayer, believe, and have faith. You are all special and someone knows that. Just know that love is waiting, and sometimes, to get what you deserve and long for, it requires a little patience and strength.

Do you have any advice for caseworkers?

José: Never quit, because everyone should be happy to be in a family or continue to want to be in a family.

Thomas: Keep doing your job. Thank you for all you continue to do. You all have changed lives and have given hope to so many youth.

Do you have any advice for families interested in adoption regarding older youth in care?

José: Just listen to the child and try to connect with them. Older kids have a lot to offer.

Thomas: Love is the greatest gift you could ever give a child. Love is a superpower, and you have the chance to be a superhero, save a child's life, make an impact on a child's life. Just open up your hearts.