This guest blog post is written by Laura Merklin, a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter in Ohio. She works diligently to provide youth in foster care with safe, loving and permanent homes. She strongly believes you never outgrow the need for family.
In November of 2015, I received a referral for an 18-year-old girl, who also had a 1-year-old daughter. I quickly learned that she was not allowed to contact much of her family of origin and many of her other family members had extensive criminal backgrounds. I knew immediately that finding Rebecca and her daughter an adoptive home might be the biggest challenge of my career. So let me tell you how I did it.
In Cuyahoga County in Ohio, there is a rule that children can only be adopted by someone they knew prior to coming into foster care. Rebecca was enrolled in an online school, which took away the option of teachers, friends’ parents or coaches and we already knew her family of origin was not an option. Then there was the added challenge that Rebecca didn’t want to be adopted and would age out of care in a year. The clock was ticking. I looked at this daunting task and felt like I needed to become a super hero. I needed a cape, time travel, something to make her see the value of adoption, but all I had was my instinct. So I got to work.
When I first met Rebecca, I explained my role as a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter. It was my job to help her understand that adoption didn’t mean forgetting your family of origin, but rather allowing yourself to have more love in your life and a support system. I started to emphasize to Rebecca that there is no such thing as “too much love.” That’s when Rebecca told me something that turned this case around. She wanted to stay with her foster mother. She said this woman had taken her in temporarily, but she’d grown to trust her because they were able to bond and that she felt her foster mother helped her become a better person. It made me feel better knowing that Rebecca would have support after she left foster care, but I wasn’t giving up on getting her adopted.
On our next visit, Rebecca told me that she and her foster mom both agreed that after care she should live independently and her foster mom would be her power of attorney. As a recruiter, my mind was blown. I couldn’t understand why someone would be OK with all of these legal procedures, but not adoption. That’s when I decided to call Rebecca’s foster mom and ask her directly. She told me she did want to adopt Rebecca, but only if Rebecca was open to it. My heart skipped a beat. We had a viable option; we just had to get Rebecca on board.
Once Rebecca heard her foster mother wanted to adopt her, her eyes lit up and she started to cry. She asked me if I was sure. Had I mixed her up with someone else on my caseload? No, I assured her that her foster mom wanted to adopt her. Rebecca said she had been afraid of rejection. She didn’t think her foster mom would want to adopt her, but now that she knew the opportunity was there…she couldn’t hold back the tears of joy. She made it clear she was ready to be adopted.
Throughout the next several months we hit a few unexpected obstacles. From trying to find missing birth documents for the court packet to advocating for fees to be waived, the process seemed never-ending.
But in the end it worked out. What I thought was going to be my most difficult referral turned out to be my first finalized adoption on January 5, 2017!