National Foster Care Month is an initiative of the Children's Bureau each May to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, and other members of the community helping children and youth in foster care. At Barker, National Foster Care Month is a time for us to renew our commitment to finding forever families for waiting children and youth through our Project Wait No Longer- older child adoption program and our advocacy in the community on their behalf. The most critical voice in the foster care journey is that of the child who is/was in care. This month hear from their voices through our series - The Voices of Barker Champions: National Foster Month Q&As.
MEET BARKER THE RHODES SISTERS.
Aya and Tala were matched with their forever family in 2009 from foster care. At the time Aya was fourteen, Tala was thirteen and their youngest sister Sarah was ten years old. Recently, we re-connected with sisters Aya and Tala. They shared some of their initial uncertainties and fears and some words of encouragement for parents considering adopting from foster care.
Q: What were some uncertainties you had while you were in foster care vs. when your forever family adopted you?
(Aya) "A coping strategy while in foster care at an older age was to get comfortable with uncertainty. One learns never to develop any deep roots or connections — that way, you can never be hurt — while always wishing for a place where you could finally feel safe enough to be vulnerable. Simply signing a legal adoption document doesn't provide that safety; the parents do, over time. Uncertainty will exist whether one has a permanent family or not. The difference comes from the deep bonds that adoption creates that enable foster kids to develop a long-lasting sense of security in a world of uncertainties. "
(Tala) "I had many uncertainties as I faced adoption out of Foster Care, and most of these while I was in Foster Care as well, 'Can I trust these people to stay in my life? Will they separate me from my sisters if I don't stay? When I graduate, will I want to keep in touch? Do I want to stay or leave? Do I want to give these people a chance to possibly hurt me? How long will I be able to stay before they ask me to leave?
My uncertainties stemmed from the fear of the unknown. In my previous life and in foster care, I didn't have anything stable to give me security — everything was always uncertain in my life. After a while, I became comfortable with living with uncertainties because I felt like I had control over my own situation. In reality, that was far from the truth. I struggled to make everyday decisions throughout my life because I was too petrified of making the wrong one - at some subconscious level thinking the Foster Care system or the foster parents would penalize me if I erred. I couldn't even order food for myself at a restaurant without panicking. It took a while, but after my adoption was finalized, I felt like I had people I could depend on if I made a poor decision. Over time, making decisions for myself became easier because I knew I had people who cared about my best interest and would be there for me when I needed them, even if I did not always make the 'right' decision.
Q: What would you say to someone who is considering adopting from foster care?
(Aya) "Adaption is not a silver magic bullet. It won't magically make a child's past disappear or lessen their internal hurt. What you are giving to foster children is an opportunity: to have a new future and a new home that could provide them with the love and security they will need to work through their pain and, once through the tunnel, to hopefully use their experience to help others. My most important advice - realize the choice to feel secure in an adoptive family is ultimately the child's. It's up to them whether to allow themself to be loved and to learn how to trust again. As adoptive parents, you will provide the foundation with consistent love, routine, and expectations. What your adopted child decides to build with your foundation is entirely up to them. If you can accept them for who they are and what they build, odds are they will accept and relish their role as your daughter or son.
(Tala) "Adopting from foster care requires a lot of patience but is worth it in the end. As the parent, you won't easily understand your kids' reactions or triggers — you will need to accept them and work on the relationship and their reactions one day at a time. Every foster kid has issues, and you will need to show them they are loved despite their flaws. Actions speak louder than words, especially for a foster child. By accepting them for who they are, you'll be able to show them they aren't alone in this world we live, which can feel scary. Eventually, they will see the effort you're putting in and accept you back.
The process, however, will have a lot of challenges. The tough times will make you question your decision to adopt, which is normal. Just keep in mind — nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. I didn't even call my parents mom and dad until I was in college. They had to push through a lot of pain to finally feel accepted by me — but for them and me, it was worth it. I love my parents more than they will ever know. I feel grateful and blessed for everything they've done for me, which is why I would do absolutely anything for them."
Fast Forward to the present. Aya graduated from Radford University in 2016, Tala has also graduated from Radford University, with honors, in 2019, and Sarah is a Senior at Towson University majoring in Political Science and Economics.
If you are exploring adoption, an older child from foster care, or want to learn more about our older child adoption program, visit our Project Wait No Longer page. If adoption is not the best fit for you at this moment, you can still be a Barker Champion by helping the 100,000+ children who are waiting in the foster care system in other ways. Learn more here or email us at info [at] barkerfoundation.org.