Answering the CALL

“We have 15 year old twins that we would like for you to consider adopting,” the adoption specialist told me when I answered the phone. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was a warm summer day in 2012 and I was at work just like any other day.  I told her that I would speak to my husband, and give her a call back. 

 2012 was a year of change for my husband and I.  We had begun the process to adopt in March of that year.  At the time it was just us and Oswald, the dog.  As we prepared and prayed for the future children God would bless us with, we decided that we were going to open our home to a sibling group of 2 possibly somewhere between the ages 5 and 12.  Babies kind of scare us (I’m joking…. a little J)!  We knew sibling groups and older children were often harder to place, but we very clearly felt like that’s who God was calling us to adopt.  We prepared two of the rooms in our 3 bedroom, 1 bath house to receive these future blessings.  The rooms were finished in April, right before I headed back to school to complete my Bachelors degree, followed by my Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.  Each time the phone rang we would wonder if this was the call that would change our lives, and our future children’s lives, forever. 

 And that call, on that warm summer day, was just the call we had waited for. When the adoption specialist came over to share more about these 15 year old girls, we found out that the twins had a younger sister, age 11, that we could adopt as well.  So much of this story was outside of what we had planned for when we began the adoption process. Then, the specialist asked if we might be willing to let one of the girls bring her cat.  After she left we knew we needed to pray!!  Going from no children to 2 already seemed like a pretty scary and God-sized goal, but 3 teenagers and a cat—that seemed down right impossible!!  And did I mention we only had 1 bathroom and rooms set up for 2?!  We prayed about it and knew that these 3 beauties were definitely supposed to be ours. 

 We made rooms for 2 into rooms for 3 in just a few days, and prepared as best we could.  Due to their older age, and the fact that school was about to start, things moved quickly. We met them one week, and they moved in the next. They moved in on our youngest daughter’s 12th birthday, so as you can imagine that birthday consisted of Taco Bell (her choice) and cash as a gift! That day, we became a family of 5 with a dog AND a cat (have I mentioned I’m not really a cat person?!). 

 One of our earliest conversations after the girls moved in was about the fact that this new thing we were doing would at times be awkward, and sometimes it was.  When strangers become family, lots of grace and flexibility is required.  As parents, we skipped the potty training stage and jumped right into all things teenager, like learning how to drive and how to navigate high school.

 One of the side effects of adopting teenagers is an increase in your prayer life.  Many nights I fell asleep with tears in my eyes as I thought through the day, and how ill prepared I was for this huge God-sized task.  But that was the thing: it was a task that was too big for me and too big for my husband (and he’s pretty awesome!). We knew if God didn’t show up we would fail miserably. In the way that God always does, He did show up and He showed up in beautiful and unexpected ways! Our daughters showed us grace as we figured out this parenting thing, most of the time on the fly.  We all made mistakes, but we just kept going. It’s now been 5 years since these 3 beautiful girls walked into our lives, and took up residence in our hearts! Our house has been a little chaotic at times, but it has been the best kind of chaos. They are absolutely the best and the bravest girls I know and I can barely remember what our lives were like before them.

 So far the only down side I’ve seen to adopting teenagers is that they leave you just as you’re getting to know them really well. Our twins have graduated from high school, and don’t live at home anymore. One is serving in the United States Marine Corp and one still lives and works in the NWA area. Our youngest daughter is just beginning her junior year of high school, so we only have a few more years left with her. The path that God called us to has not always been easy, but thanks to a whole lot of prayer, grace, and one of the most amazing support systems ever, our lives move forward for the better!

By Jaclyn Williams, Adoptive Mom

 

Unsung Heroes

“A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strengths, but by the strength of his heart.”
      Hercules

Have you ever started something assuming you knew what you would be doing and what you would get out of it, and then, to your surprise, you learned so much more, and took away more blessings than you ever could have imagined?  That is how I would describe my family’s journey as a foster family here in Northwest Arkansas. No one could have prepared me for what we would learn, the people we would meet, all the many services we would become aware of, and, most importantly, all the unseen heroes that we, unfortunately, had never given much thought to. You may not know it, but there are so many amazing men and women working with “at risk” families in our area. These men and women are the caseworkers working hand-in-hand with children and families through the Department of Human Services. Today, in Arkansas, there are 5,104 children in DHS custody, and every one of those children is assigned a caseworker that advocates and speaks on their behalf. Though often overlooked, no one can wear a superhero cape more deservedly than these men and women.

The first time I met our caseworker was the night we took our first kiddo. That night will always be one of my most endearing memories. I’m not sure what I expected, but the cute little blonde-headed boy with his honor roll ribbon pinned to his shirt wasn’t it. His little world had been completely shaken that day. He was scared, angry, and had no idea what was happening, where he was going, or what to expect. Thankfully, he had a great caseworker! She was there in that scary moment when he was taken from his family–she was a smiling face, and a warm hug. She reassured him that he was safe. She brought him to my home and walked alongside him, his siblings, his family, and our family for months and months until his case was complete and a safe resolve for his family was reached. That one case would keep a single caseworker busy, but this superhero had 15+ cases happening much like it at the same time.

When someone asks me who my heroes are, at the very top of my list are caseworkers. They fight on the frontlines for families. They are often hated, disrespected, and mistreated because, in their job, they have to do hard things daily.  They care deeply and are genuine. They believe in second chances and that people can change and rise up when they are given hope and support. They fight and advocate for the children who often have no voice. They start work early, leave work late and take frequent on-call hours at night and on the weekends. When a family needs them, someone is available.

I was curious what the best part of a caseworker’s job is, so I asked Benton County caseworkers Maria Taylor and Sarah Harper what they thought. Sarah said, “Getting to be part of helping families, working for reunification and seeing successful reunification.” Maria said, “Seeing a family reunified. Seeing parents successfully battle their demons, do HARD work and completely change their lives and become a better, happier, healthier family is THE BEST.” The kids they work with become their kids. They worry about them, they pray for them, they lose sleep thinking about their case and their families. These kids all have pieces of their heart and I’ve seen firsthand how hard they work to help these kids and families have healthy and happy lives. I’ve seen them rejoice when things turn out well and families are reunited, I’ve seen them be heartbroken when they don’t.

Maya Angelou said, “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” This perfectly describes every caseworker I have ever met. Even though it often seems impossible, like there is no way to get it all done and complete everything that needs to be completed, they work hard day in and day out to see it through. They give families hope! Casework isn’t just a job–it’s about helping restore the broken, holding hands with those fighting the fight of their life, and being the person whose lifting them up, encouraging them, and cheering them on. Casework isn’t just a job–it’s a life changing career calling. If you happen to know one, give them a big hug and say THANK YOU! They are truly unsung heroes in our society and here in Northwest Arkansas we are blessed with some of the best!

Stephanie Laney, CALL Foster Parent

3rd Annual Open Hearts, Open Homes

We are excited to announce that we will be hosting our 3rd annual “Open Hearts Open Homes Gala” on Tuesday, October 10 at the beautiful Horton Farms. The purpose of this event is to raise funds to assist The CALL in NWA with recruiting and training Christian families and supporting all foster and adoptive homes in our community. Plan to join us as we celebrate another year of commitment and growth! Tickets may be purchased by visiting our Eventbrite page, or by contacting us directly at nwa@thecallinarkansas.org.

The CALL and Teachers

I want to share with you my journey being part of the foster care system as both foster parent and teacher.

Somewhere around our fifth year of marriage, Jacob and I heard a sermon that resounded with us. Our pastor, Charlie Loften, spoke on our Biblical obligation to care for children in foster care. I remember sneaking glances at my husband and thinking during that sermon, “Is this pulling at his heart strings like it is mine?” The moment we got into the car, Jacob looked at me and said, “This is something we need to do.” WHEW! Big sigh of relief!

Charlie’s sermon came at a time when the CALL, was being launched in Northwest Arkansas. The CALL’s focus is to address the foster care crisis in Arkansas. Children who come into care are often moved from their hometown, school, and the only world they know due to a shortage in open foster homes. Even within the few years I had taught, I had seen this happen at my elementary school. A student in my own classroom had been removed from her home during the school day. I recall hugging this tiny, clueless 2nd grader goodbye, unsure if I would ever see her again. Could I be part of the solution? Could I open my home as a foster home and keep our students close by?

After completing all of the requirements, it was a waiting game of which call from DCFS would be the perfect match for our family. You want only God’s plan, but you get anxious waiting on His timing. The excitement of the unknown even spread to our immediate family members.

In the spring of 2014, I was finishing up my fourth year of teaching in the Springdale schools. Those I worked with knew our intentions to foster. While a few of my fellow teachers were in my principal’s office one day, she mentioned a student at our school that had gone into care recently. The student’s 2nd grade teacher, who was in the room as well, was very worried about this child. I remember she asked me, “What can I do?” Being new to this, I didn’t know how one would go about even getting a specific child in their home. Was that even possible? Did you have to be an open home? Didn’t you have to get a call?

I called our CALL county coordinator, Ann Meythaler, to find out what we could do. Thankfully, Ann knew about a DCFS policy that provided an option for educators who have students go into care. If no family is available to provide an approved home, a child’s teacher can be considered as “fictive kin” and open their home for that child.

As a teacher that was willing to open her home, I was able to help this child, Kennedy, remain at the same school. I am so thankful that we were able to spare her from one more thing being taken from her. It has to be included that she also thought it was pretty awesome getting to live with a teacher!  Kennedy’s story is likely a familiar one for many in our profession: a student living in poverty who showed signs of neglect, abuse, little academic support from home, and an unknown future. I don’t want to share specific details, but her situation was discouraging. While we were very happy to provide a home for Kennedy while her biological family “did their homework that the judge gave them” (this was our way of explaining it to her), we did not anticipate that this would end in adoption. We hoped that she would be able to return to her family and prayed for them every night.

On April 8, 2015, we became Kennedy’s “forever family.” This is the official day that Kennedy was adopted. However, she has been a part of our family from day one. We all grew to love her and enjoy her silly humor.  We are so glad that we were able to be a part of her journey and continue our lives with her. Our family would not be the same.

Today, Kennedy is a healthy, smart, popular 12-year-old girl. She has received multiple awards for her leadership abilities. She engages and succeeds in anything new she tries. All who encounter her quickly notices her positive demeanor; whether it is those in her school, swim team, church groups, or extended family. I admire her for the way she treats others. No matter how different from her, she shows kindness to anyone she is around.

I will never take credit for all of these positive changes. Yes, we did ultimately change the future for her; however, the woman that she is becoming is due to those positive role models she has found along her journey. I give full credit to the teachers and staff that maintained high expectations, loved the whole child, and prayed for her.

I want to encourage those who work in schools to prayerfully consider if this is a journey you are willing to take with a child. I guarantee the idea of foster care is not as scary when you put a face to it. Yes, it was convenient that our family had already received the necessary clearance to receive foster children. However, it is possible to begin this process by contacting DCFS and opening as a “provisional home,” for a specific child in care. Let your principal and counselor know that if a child at your school goes into care, you are willing to open your home to them while they go through this difficult time.. You WILL be changing a life!

by Kathleen Barnes, Foster and adoptive mom and former CALL Board Member