Late one winter night in 2008, 7-year-old Tarah* and 8-year-old Anthony came into foster care because their mom was addicted to heroin and struggled with mental illness. They were immediately split up and placed with strangers.
Their caseworker was brand new. She tried to contact relatives but found fewer than 10. With no known father, she felt she’d reached a dead end.
Out of options, the caseworker turned to Extreme Recruitment®, a daring new program to find forever families for the toughest-to-place children in foster care. She reached out to the Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition and met Edna, who was pioneering the groundbreaking Extreme Recruitment® model.
In short order, Edna doubled the number of potential relatives to take in the siblings. Then she doubled it again! Soon, she had created a burgeoning family tree and found a cousin who would consider adoption. Things were looking up for the children and Tarah and Anthony began to see a way out of foster care.
Soon after, the children’s mother died of an overdose. Even though their life with her was far from perfect, the news devastated the children. Adoption became more important than ever.
Edna had identified a long list of relatives willing to be involved in the children’s lives. But a few weeks later at Tarah’s next court appearance, tragedy struck. Each of the children’s foster parents refused visits with the prospective adoptive relatives. They convinced the judge that the kids were better off aging out of foster care rather than finding a forever home.
The die was cast, and Edna was not allowed to present evidence that healthy, alternative options were possible. Not only was Edna off the case, she was not even allowed to say goodbye to the children.
After 10 years with no news, Edna received a call from a colleague with the terrible news that Anthony was in prison. Edna’s stomach turned. She asked about Tarah.
As is the case with too many children relegated to foster care, Tarah and her brother were eventually kicked out of their foster homes and began the heartbreaking shuffle from foster home to foster home, from school to school.
Tarah had grown desperate. She was 17 years old and still trying to find someone to adopt her.
Edna was quickly reinvited onto the case. She met Tarah at a restaurant, seeing Tarah sitting at a table by herself. Edna told Tarah how troubled she remained about not being able to say goodbye years before. She told Tarah that she never stopped thinking about her and her brother.
The situation was dire. More than half of Tarah’s life had been spent in foster care. Nearing 18 years old and struggling in school, Tarah was considered “unadoptable” by many agencies.
It took Edna two weeks to find an aunt, Patricia, who was willing to consider adopting Tarah.
Under the caring guidance of her aunt and the behind-the-scenes workings of the Coalition’s Educational Advocacy team, Tarah attended summer school. She became a straight-A student and a cheerleader. Her coworkers at her part-time job loved her.
The Coalition helped the new family adjust and thrive. We facilitated difficult conversations about living with past trauma, setting boundaries and expectations. We brought cutting-edge, trauma-informed parenting techniques into their home, and helped them apply these techniques in real-life situations.
Though Tarah regained her life and future, she ached for her brother, whom she hadn’t seen since his arrest years prior. Anthony represented something essential: the last person alive to know Tarah since birth. After all, sibling relationships are the longest-lasting a child will ever have.
Due to the sensitivity of the situation, a reunion took Edna weeks of delicate negotiations. Finally the day arrived and Aunt Patricia took Tarah to the prison. Tarah worried that if only she had helped Anthony believe they would one day find a forever family, that maybe he wouldn’t be in prison. She wished she could have helped him keep his hope, helped him hang on a little longer.
Today, Tarah talks about her adoption day the way most people recall their wedding, or the birth of a child. She always knew she was worthy of a family. She never gave up hope.
In 2011, before this work was supported in our community, Edna was removed from seven cases by foster parents, judges, and caseworkers who didn’t see the value in what she did. Since then, Edna has created 46 adoptions for our community’s most vulnerable children, including sibling groups, older youth, and kids with special needs. In 2016, Edna was named “outstanding Adoption Specialist of the Year” by the nationally-renowned Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. She has not been removed from a case in years.
*Names and pictures have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.