Many of us in the Therapeutic Foster Care program were amazed when we encountered this woman. As a single mother in her 30s with a grown son, she defied foster care statistics when she welcomed a child with special needs into her home and then opened her door to the boy’s two brothers as well. But when she chose to adopt all three of the boys—each with developmental disabilities—she outdid herself.
Becoming a foster parent is a major decision on its own, with plenty of challenges and hurdles to jump. But finding foster placements for a child with special needs is especially tricky. Receptive parents are not only required to undergo additional training, but they also must be willing to do so. And while there are plenty of good people out there, even the most dedicated and generous of foster parents can find it challenging to care for a child with special needs.
Multiply one child by three, and the odds overwhelmingly favor sibling separation and multiple placements. Many people come into foster parenting thinking it’s one thing and it turns out to be something far different. Often times it’s even more demanding than the foster parent was anticipating.
But, as I said, Erica is very rare. She’s demonstrated skills and patience beyond her years.
And, most unique and interesting of all, Erica not only identified a group of siblings, she actually adopted them. That happens less than one percent of the time.
The boys—Marcus, then 9 years old; Damon, then 5 years old, and Sean, then age 8—came to Erica one by one starting in 2006. While eager to help as a foster parent, Erica had never thought seriously about adopting a child, let alone three boys with developmental disabilities.
She first met Marcus through another social services agency she was involved with. But, not long after Marcus entered her care, the foster care agency she was working with at the time said they could not handle his case, because they were not equipped for children with special needs. Fortunately, someone directed her here to Kennedy Krieger Institute, where she connected with our Therapeutic Foster Care Program.
Erica not only realized the importance of keeping the brothers together, but she became determined to make it happen. And so, not long after she took in Marcus and transitioned to Kennedy Krieger’s program, she welcomed the other boys, one by one, into her home. Over the next two years, she successfully adopted all three of them. For her, it was an easy decision.
“They were already my children,” Erica says. “They were in my home, I was taking care of them and loving them. This just made sense.”
She has also undertaken their entire education. Because one of the three boys has severe autism, he attends a public school in a special education program that can address his learning needs. But, concerned about whether public schools could fully meet her other two adopted sons’ special needs, Erica teaches them herself. She has worked really hard at making a home for these kids and getting them the help that they need. Her efforts, generosity and determination should serve as inspiration to any parent in any capacity, the same way we are inspired by Erica.
Bruce McClary is a social worker with Kennedy Krieger’s Therapeutic Foster Care program.