The first time Lori Brown and her husband, Steven, inquired with the county about adopting from foster care – specifically to adopt a child with special needs – they felt rebuffed.
Steven has a steady, long-term government job and has been repeatedly promoted. They are experienced parents, and their youngest son, Hunter, 13, has cerebral palsy – the couple has two other birth children, Dakota, 19, and Maria, 16. They also have a vast support network in place.
What was it that gave the impression they wouldn't be excellent adoptive parents?
Steven is a master sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is approaching the 20 year mark, and will be in for at least another four years.
“They said they didn't want to invest time getting us licensed, because there is always that chance of orders or deployment,” said Lori, of Winchester, California.
Lori calls her family a “Marine Corps family,” and true to the motto of Semper Fi, or “Always Faithful,” they were undaunted. They tried a different agency, and received a different reception. During the home study process, they found Destiny, their daughter, on AdoptUSKids.
“There was something about her,” Lori said.
Destiny, now almost 3 years old, was born with half a heart, and has undergone several surgeries. She has also suffered a stroke, is deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other. At 17 months she was placed with the Browns, in February, 2012. When she arrived, she had trouble holding herself up. Now she is learning American Sign Language, and talks, and walks.
“She has quite the personality,” Lori said.
The adoption was finalized in December.
“It was a very easy process,” Lori said. “Day to day, Destiny is a very easy going kid.”
Looking back on the first try, Lori thinks it's unfortunate that the advantages military families bring to the table aren't immediately obvious.
“We’re able to handle different challenges,” she said. “We’re adaptable to changes, we’re focused, and most importantly, we have a big support system behind us even though our extended family may be far away — we have our military family.”
It's true that service members are obligated to relocate when new orders are handed down, and that a stay in one particular place often lasts just three or four years. But three or four years is long enough to complete a home study and go through the placement and finalization process, Brown said. If a military family encounters resistance, Brown suggests they keep trying.
“Just because you get that type of attitude or answer from one place, there are many other avenues out there,” she said.
Often what stands in the way of a military family adopting from foster care is either their lack of knowledge about the services available to them, or misconceptions about the children waiting in the foster care system.
Lori, for her part, teaches classes to other military families with children with special needs on how to obtain services. She takes the opportunity to talk about adoption to anyone who is interested. The military makes many accommodations to families of enlisted personnel or officers who are fostering and adopting children, such as:
Lori said the military knows it is in everybody's best interest to take care of families with children with special needs.
“If a family gets moved, and they get there and are not able to get medical issues taken care of, it's going to be an unhappy family, and people will need to take extra time off. They don't want to do that.” It can be a financial and emotional hardship on the family and therefore the military member may not be able to do their job to the best of their ability.
On top of that, adopting from foster care can be virtually free.
“The most we spent was $400, and that was getting the house 100 percent baby proof,” Lori said. “It's all doable.”
Although the Browns wanted to adopt a child with special needs, seeing as they had experience and saw the need, Lori said there are as many different kinds of kids as there are families.
“There are so many kids in the system who just need a chance to find their family,” she said.
Although Lori and Destiny do not have contact with the birth parents, Lori posts online photos and updates about Destiny, which they can view if they choose.
Destiny had gone through six failed matching attempts before arriving at the Browns, Lori said, which were attributed to her health issues. People born with Destiny's heart condition don't have a long life expectancy. Lori said the oldest on record living is 39. However, advancements in heart surgeries give them hope. And Destiny keeps developing; she’ll be fitted for hearing aids soon.
“We have no regrets,” Lori said.
It's true, however, that military families have to deal with changes and stresses other families don't. Steven has twice been deployed to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. This is his third assignment to Japan. Dakota recently graduated from Army basic training, and is currently stationed in Texas. The family knows what to expect, Lori said, and that is that expectations don't always pan out.
“With my husband in the military, and our youngest son’s medical issues, we learned a long time ago there are no guarantees in life,” she said. “With Destiny, we knew going in that she has these medical issues, and she deserves to be loved as long as she is on this earth.”
AdoptUSKids is a service of the U.S. Children’s Bureau and has been in operation since 2002 by the Adoption Exchange Association under a cooperative agreement (grant #90CQ0003). The mission of AdoptUSKids is two-fold: to raise public awareness about the need for foster and adoptive families for children in the public child welfare system; and to assist U.S. States, Territories, and Tribes to recruit and retain foster and adoptive families and connect them with children.