Maggie, Rachel, and Dani all have something special to celebrate this holiday season. Maggie, a foster mom, has decided to adopt a foster child, Rachel, 13. And Dani was there to help make the match.
Maggie and Rachel (not their real names) found each other earlier this year when Dani Whitham, Rachel’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), was searching for the perfect person to adopt Rachel, who had been in and out of many homes as a foster child.
Dani knew Maggie from an earlier placement and had come to respect her for her desire to help children. But she knew Maggie had yet to find the right foster fit.
“Maggie had just about decided foster care was not for her,” recalls Dani. ”She had a tough time when two very young children she was caring for were moved. I knew Rachel needed a permanent home about that time but that I had to make sure Maggie was ready emotionally before connecting everyone.
“So I called Maggie and said, ‘Would you be willing to meet one more kiddo? This girl is really cool and I think you’d be a good match,’ She agreed to meet Rachel, and that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”
Teens often overlooked by parents wishing to adopt a foster child
Getting to know one another was, well, a bit of a process. Maggie had wanted little children, and now she was being asked to take on a teen.
“I became a foster parent because I wanted to adopt a child. But I was really apprehensive about teenagers,” she says. “I trusted Dani, because of our relationship, so I trusted her thoughts on this and that we would be a good match, The only reason I considered Rachel is that I trusted Dani that she was an amazing kid. And it turns out she was right.”
For Dani and Rachel, the outcome is ideal. Rachel’s parents had given up their parental rights. When that happens to an older foster care child, adoptions are rare.
But as a dedicated CASA volunteer, Dani did not give up on finding the perfect home for Rachel. She gladly played the role of matchmaker. After their initial getting-to-know-you period, Maggie and Rachel clicked.
With Maggie’s love to support her, Rachel excels in school
Maggie’s influence on Rachel is clear. “We are both strong personalities with pretty high expectations for ourselves and others,” Maggie says. “Rachel is sassy and has a big personality like me. Other foster parents were put off by her character. But I told her, ‘Don’t ever lose that strength! Just learn how to use it better.’”
Today, Rachel flourishes in school. Two years ago, her report cards sported mostly Fs. This year, she got straight As for the first time, and has continued to excel.
“I always knew I was smart,” Rachel says. “But when you share a room with five other kids, it’s hard to focus. And people just assume foster kids are unstable and super mean and disruptive, and won’t do well in school.”
Rachel’s adoption represents one of several successful outcomes that are possible when someone like Dani takes charge of a foster child’s journey through the legal system. Sometimes a child is reunited with their birth family; other times, another family member may step in as the adult that child needs.
Dani thrilled by adoption of her ‘first kiddo’
Dani became a CASA volunteer after learning about the official role an adult can assume to represent a foster child’s best interests before the court. While she facilitated other strong placements during her years as a volunteer, this one was particularly powerful.
“Rachel was my first kiddo. She was devastated when her mother gave up her parental rights. That’s what makes this adoption so special for me,” she says.
Today Dani is a CASA staff member. She encourages others in the community to volunteer with CASA, and be there as a child attempts to successfully navigate life as a foster child. “There’s really nothing like knowing you have helped a kiddo find a good home,” she says.
Visit the CASA website at www.casaclarkcounty.org to get involved!