Finding Forever Families
Nov 10, 2017 03:29PM
● By Dia
By Audrey Sellers
November 17, 2017, will be a day that dozens of area families will never forget. The Friday before Thanksgiving is National Adoption Day, a time when children in foster care officially become part of a loving family. No more shuffling between foster homes or wondering where they’ll end up. Kids finally get a forever home—and just in time for the holidays.
Since the annual event began in 2000, more than 35,000 children have been adopted on National Adoption Day. Locally, Tarrant County Adoption Day is one of hundreds of events promoting adoption and creating forever families for kids in foster care. Last year, 76 children were adopted at the Tarrant County Family Law Center in downtown Fort Worth.
This year, the hope is for even more children to receive something every child deserves: a family.
Love, Laughter and Changed Lives
On Tarrant County Adoption Day, the courthouse’s typically somber setting transforms into an all-out celebration with balloons, teddy bears, costumed superheroes and a sea of smiling faces.
The energy is unlike anything Denee’ Borchardt has ever experienced. Borchardt is program director for CASA of Tarrant County, an organization that serves abused and neglected children and helps sponsor Tarrant County Adoption Day.
“The courthouse is full of people and every character you can imagine. Judges who are normally so stern and serious are glowing and laughing,” she says. “All the love in the room is overwhelming. I can’t even describe it.”
Last year, Borchardt recalls seeing a little girl twirling in a ruffled pink dress and hugging her new parents. “She was Caucasian and her parents were African American,” Borchardt says. “She embraced them just as she would biological parents. She didn’t even know she didn’t come from them. It just really warmed my heart.”
Borchardt explains that in most cases, a child has been placed with an adoptive family for at least six months and is monitored before the adoption is finalized.
When National Adoption Day rolls around every November, it’s all about having fun and making memories as new families are officially formed. Children receive a stuffed animal, book, superhero cape and necklace engraved with their name and adoption date. Adoptive mothers receive a yellow rose and adoptive fathers receive the pen the judge uses to sign the adoption decree. Families then get their first official family photograph to take home.
Leslie Barrows, an attorney with Southlake-based The Barrows Firm, describes Tarrant County Adoption Day as a combination of Christmas and Disney World. “It is magic in action because of how these children’s faces light up and because of the sparkle I see in the eyes of these new parents,” she says. “We are providing them with a far better life than they ever hoped for.”
Barrows gravitated toward Tarrant County Adoption Day when she opened her law practice in 2006. Her firm volunteers to assist with counseling both the children and foster parents during the transition. “I have the honor of helping many children find forever homes where they can receive the love they so intensely crave,” says Barrows.
Opening Up Homes and Hearts
Keller residents Randy and Vickie Akins share the same passion for helping children. So much so in fact, that they adopted two children on National Adoption Day. Their son, James, is 12 and their daughter, Kenna, is six.
“We went into it to make a difference in the life of a child in need,” says Vickie, who adopted James and Kenna as infants. The couple also has a 24-year-old biological son, Spencer. “Being a biological and an adoptive parent, there’s no difference between my kids. It’s like they were all born to me.”
In addition to adopting two children, the Akins have also fostered 12 children in the past 12 years. They take in one child at a time, and each child lives with them for about a year. “I like to have them a long time and get to know them well,” says Vickie. “Some of them we still have a relationship with.”
When a foster child moves on to a permanent home, Vickie admits it’s emotionally taxing. “It’s very hard when they leave. Foster parenting is not for the weak or faint-hearted,” she says. “Every time a foster child leaves, I try to be happy for them even though I hurt. I know in my heart I made a difference for the time I had them.”
Eager to connect with other local foster/adopt families, the Akins founded Chosen Ones, an adoptive and foster-care ministry, in 2006. The nonprofit provides support groups, family events, mentor programs and even a warehouse, called the Just 4 U Closet, where foster/adopt families can shop for free clothes, toys, baby equipment and furniture. Last year, more than 400 foster parents and more than 600 foster kids attended the nonprofit’s support groups, and more than 1,000 kids received needed items at the Just 4 U Closet.
“There were no support groups available for families who did what we did,” says Vickie. “So we started a group and it morphed into this huge organization.”
A Need for Families
Texas children in the foster-care system need more loving families like the Akins. Tarrant County ranks No. 2 statewide for the highest number of confirmed child-abuse cases, according to the The Dallas Morning News. Harris County in Houston leads the state.
“This is extremely alarming,” says Borchardt. “We have a smaller population than Dallas and Austin, but we’re No. 2 for confirmed abuse and neglect.”
Community members are called to help. Approximately 250 abused and neglected children in Tarrant County are awaiting a volunteer advocate to help make a difference in their lives. CASA volunteers visit with the child and speak up for him or her in court. A volunteer is often the one constant in a child’s life amidst changes in foster placements, schools and caseworkers. (To determine if CASA is right for you, visit SpeakUpForAChild.org.)
“The more community involvement and awareness, the better,” Borchardt says. “If families are able to open their homes for fostering and adoption, I encourage them to do so. We can never have enough families.”
Vickie agrees that if families are interested in fostering or adopting a child, now’s the time to act. There has never been a greater need. “People don’t understand what a crisis we have here. We don’t have enough foster parents. Some kids have to sleep in shelters,” she says. “There is a lot involved with being a foster parent, but in the end, the rewards outweigh the costs.”
As you gather with loved ones this holiday season, look around. Do you have some extra room in your home—and in your heart?
“All kids need hope, a future and a chance. Their lives can be radically transformed just from structure and love,” Vickie says. “Whether you’re loving on a child for five weeks, five months, five years or forever, the impact you can have on that child is eternal.”
Adoption Facts at a Glance
The U.S. adopts more children than all other countries combined
One out of every 25 families with children in the U.S. has an adopted child
Approximately 40 percent of adoptions are from the U.S. foster care system
The average age of a waiting child is 7.7 years old
29 percent of children will spend at least three years in foster care
81.5 million Americans have considered adoption
40 percent of adopted children are a different race, culture or ethnicity than one or both adoptive parents
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Interested in learning more about fostering or adopting a child? Visit MyChosenOnes.org.