Our D.C. Adoption Story
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Last month, The Post's Henri E. Cauvin reported that the number of eligible D.C. foster children being adopted had dropped dramatically -- from 314 during a major reform initiative four years ago to 119 last year and just 68 through the first nine months of this fiscal year. Officials with the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency say that they are not happy with the falling rate but note that many of those remaining in the system involve harder placements such as older children and sibling groups. Brenda and Patrick Marson's December adoption of their two D.C. foster sons, recounted here, fell into both categories.
We married in September 2003. Patrick came to America from Jamaica as a teenager; I had been neglected as a child and entered the D.C. foster-care system. Now we were in a position to give something back.
So, in July 2005, we were certified in the District and Maryland as therapeutic foster parents. It was the first step on a journey to the family we are today. It hasn't always been easy, but we'd do it all again in a heartbeat.
At first, we took in emergency-care children, short-term placements that might last a weekend or a month. Then that November two brothers -- Dayvon and Javon -- came for an overnight visit, and our lives would never be the same.
They'd been through a lot, with their families and with the D.C. foster system. Dayvon was 11. He was despondent and withdrawn, loyal to a foster mother despite her mistreatment of him, but his eyes showed a hunger for love. Javon, 3, was the opposite, full of affection to the point of clinginess. We played board games and ball that first visit. When it was time for them to leave, Javon held on to me and would not let go. They were back for good three weeks later.
My son Brandon was developing into a young man, with a need for independence, and we were delighted to have these children in our home. Plus, I knew something about what Dayvon and Javon had been through, the anxieties they were feeling. I knew how it felt to have been put into homes where you couldn't trust the adults to do what they were supposed to. More than anything, I understood their longing to be part of a stable family that would love them unconditionally.
It was a busy time. We worked hard to make the placement the most loving, comfortable and structured environment these two boys could experience. We provided good food and clothes. We took family trips, to Pennsylvania and to Disney World. We went on outings with friends and family. We had an extravagant Christmas celebration, with a mountain of toys and gifts. (Yes, we spoiled them a little.)
Naturally, the boys had needs, but we thought it was going well. We dealt with their issues as they arose. We had developed a strong bond in a short period that seemed to be very genuine. Finally, after six months, we signed an "intent to adopt" petition with the D.C. Superior Court. We did this to give the children, as well as ourselves, a sense of permanency. The boys deserved a stable permanent home -- with us as their loving parents.
And that's when things got rough.
The children's behavior did an about-face. Now, not only did they have the usual anxieties and fears, but they went into outright rebellion. They pushed us away, perhaps as a way of giving up on us before we could give up on them, the way others had done. Suddenly, nothing we did was enough. There were problems at school, and false allegations were made to the foster care agency, leading to additional supervision and monitoring of the placement. The adoption process ground to a halt.
We felt intimidated by the system. Our home seemed micromanaged; simple things that the children no longer would comply with -- their chores and matters of hygiene -- would be adjusted according to the directions of the foster care agency. It felt like we were being put through a "test of dedication," and we jumped through all the hoops.
Then, on top of everything, Dayvon started to question whether we were only committing to adopting for the stipend that came with it, the way a previous foster parent of his had abused the system for financial gain. All we could do was reassure him that we had enough resources of our own. That we'd care for him regardless.
At last, when I began individual therapy to help me cope with the frustration of it all, things started to change. I felt inadequate when all did not pan out as smoothly as I'd planned, and these sessions helped. The therapy gave me a place to vent my frustrations. Soon the entire family joined the sessions, and together -- as a family -- we began to develop our family skills. We learned about each other's strengths and weaknesses, hopes and aspirations, fears and doubts.
The adoption was finalized last December. Three years after the boys' arrival, we became, officially, a permanent family. Dayvon and Javon took our last name, and they have joined with Brandon as a part of our lives forever. Now, as we reflect on where we came from and observe the boys' happiness today, it brings the warmest feeling to our hearts. We have never been happier.
The boys have settled in wonderfully. For them, it is a year of firsts. Brandon is headed to his first year in college, and he vows to continue his awesome relationship with his brothers. Dayvon enters his first year of high school, where he will play junior varsity football and take part in JROTC. Javon is embarking on his first year in kindergarten.
The behavior problems are a thing of the past. The boys know they are "home" -- with a family that will not leave them.