Entering the Unknown: A Transition from Foster Care to Adoption
By: Cody Gross
“From my perspective, it was just a huge reality check. You think this is going to be glamorous? You think this is going to be fun? You think this is going to be cool? It’s going to be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. That’s what they said. And, even though they said that a zillion times, there is no way they could have prepared you for the reality of how hard it really was.” –Eric Arthur
Five children. Five bags of possessions. Go.
The moment the children’s feet hit the pavement, life for the Arthur family took a twist that would impact the family forever.
“When they came in the door, I don’t know what I was thinking,” foster mother Rhonda Arthur says with a smile. “I knew in my head that they were going to be living with us, but the people brought them. The gentlemen that brought them helped us put their beds together, and then they left. Then, it dawned on me. These five kids are living here now. That in itself was a reality check. That first day began the emotional roller coaster of foster care for me.”
The Arthurs reside in Collierville, Tennessee, 25 minutes outside of Memphis, which has an estimated 28 percent of people living below the poverty line.
In February 2011, the couple, married 26 years, felt a calling to the often underappreciated challenges of fostering.
According to U.S. Children’s Bureau, over 8,000 children in the state of Tennessee are in the foster care system.
The Arthurs did not know all that much about the foster care system.
“It was definitely a calling because there would be no other reason to want to do it — I don’t think — other than that,” Mr. Arthur said.
As the two began training to become certified, the two learned to relinquish their sense of independence and privacy.
“You have to be very vulnerable to the state,” Mrs. Arthur said. “They see everything personal about you that you could imagine — birth certificate, Social Security, bank statements, tax returns.”
Foster parents in Tennessee are granted a $1,000 stipend from the state. To counter the inevitable fears of financial exploitation by needy families, organizations that work closely with foster care children strongly urge their trainees to take the plunge only if they could hypothetically raise a child without the stipend.
Foster families have to change the dynamics of their households as well.
“Logistically, you have to rearrange your family because [the state] has guidelines as far as what ages and genders can share bedrooms,” Mrs. Arthur explains. “You have to rearrange your life to safety proof your home to another level than you would with your own children with medications, guns. Be ready for a stranger to walk in your house and examine your drawers, closets.”
Even with all privacy basically stripped away from the family, the Arthurs always managed to maintain some equilibrium. The children that would enter their home, however, had quite a different life.
In training, Mr. Arthur noted one exercise that drastically changed his perspective on what foster parents had to do daily to show love. He recalls closing his eyes and looking at the foster care system through the eyes of a foster child.
Five New Faces
Fast forward a few months, and the Arthurs have five kids standing at their doorstep. Their first placement of children — a sibling group consisting of a three-month-old, twin one-year-olds, another one-year-old and a six-year-old — arrived on November 7, 2012.
The two had learned of their new charges only a day earlier. They would be taking care of not only their two biological children but also five strangers all under the age of six. Mr. Arthur remembers the events on that day before the kids arrived.
“To take in a sibling group of five — just to have the bare essentials for them — we had to lay out about [two-thousand dollars] up front. We had a 24-hour notice. We had to go buy beds, linen, everything you can think of because we had anywhere from a six-year-old to an infant. We had to buy car seats for everybody. You had to be prepared to lay out some money up front.”
While the Arthurs knew what they had to set aside financially, they had no idea what was in store physically. Four of the five kids contributed to the thirty to forty diapers changed per day. Mr. Arthur laughs as he remembers losing ten pounds in the first week due to the constant demands.
The family struggled to leave the home. Physically, travel was tough with so many children. However, the reactions the Arthurs faced — and ones they believe many foster parents face — were even more hurtful to them.
“We didn’t venture out a lot because it was difficult, but we felt like a spectacle,” Mrs. Arthur said. “In our church, we didn’t really feel the support that we thought we would. We felt like more of an attraction of sorts. People would just stare and say, ‘Oh, that’s great. I could never do that. I would just get too attached.’”
“Too attached” is a comment that foster parents hear far too often. Mr. Arthur finds the phrase an insult.
“Think about the statement itself. [It] implies you obviously don’t love them because you won’t get attached to them. That couldn’t be anything further from the truth. We absolutely love them and will love them for the rest of their lives and our lives. We did get attached. It’s just a matter of if you are willing to allow yourself to experience pain — extreme pain — for the betterment of that child. If you are not willing to let yourself experience pain, that is not the same thing as saying, ‘Oh, I would love them too much. I would never let them go.’”
The Arthurs appreciated the kind actions of some close friends who brought anything from diapers to meals, but the support came from few.
The Dreaded Day
After nearly seven months, the day came. The day that all foster parents have difficulty defining arrived.
The goal of foster care is to reunite families. Mr. Arthur, who believes he shares the opinion of most foster parents, thinks the best situation for any kid is to be with his or her biological parents unless the situation presents a danger.
However, that does not make the departure of the children any easier, and that moment brought the Arthurs to tears.
Mrs. Arthur recalled that the day was a bit of a blur.
“I don’t really remember a lot of what was said in court that day except realized that the judge was saying that they were going home.”
Despite the overwhelming and conflicting emotions that both the parents and the biological daughters faced that day, they understood that the children needed to be with their biological parents. Mr. Arthur realized an overarching theme in foster care following the departure of the placement.
“I came to another realization in that whole process. Who am I to say that my raising that child is better than someone else just because they may not have the same financial means or have the same standards in their life that I have in mine?”
Overcoming the difficulty is the next step. For months, maybe years, life revolves around the foster children. Often, the family is left wondering. What are the kids doing? Where are they? How are they? In some cases, foster families can maintain contact. In others, the wondering never stops.
In the Arthur’s case, they closed their home for a short period to regroup and refocus their efforts.
However, a foster parent is always prepared for the next child.
The call came on March 6, 2013.
A baby needed a home, and the Arthur household was open — more open than usual as Mr. Arthur was on a business trip.
Mrs. Arthur accepted the request before she even asked her husband. Reflecting on the day, he laughs.
“I always tell people, ‘You go out of town on a business trip, some women will go buy a new purse and a couple of pairs of new shoes. My wife goes and gets a new baby.’ You have to be careful when you go out of town for business.”
So, the Arthurs once again had a foster baby — Myah — in their home.
Reflecting on the time Myah has spent in the Arthur household, Rhonda says that the child has been a joy to raise.
“Myah has been an easy baby to love even though she was a drug-exposed infant at birth. She has probably been the easiest of the three children that we have raised — well, we haven’t raised her yet. She is easy to love, easy to take care of.”
The parents also credit their two biological children — both over the age of 20 — for the ease of raising Myah. They believe the love and care the two have shown have been a tremendous help in developing Myah.
Keep in mind, the Department of Child Safety prohibits the use of children’s names in their system. In this piece, the names of five children that comprised the first placement are not included. So, how is it that Myah appears?
Well, she is an Arthur now.
Adoption was not originally part of the Arthurs’ plan.
“Know this — when we got her, we had no intentions of adopting her,” Mr. Arthur emphasizes. “Adoption wasn’t even an option for her.”
But, as time moves on and court sessions come and go, foster families get a sense of the situation. The court system and DCS are set up to reunite biological children with their parents. But for Myah, each court appearance made it less likely that the mother would regain custody. Eventually, she surrendered her rights, and the father was unable to participate.
Unlike many foster children who bounce from foster home to foster home, the Arthurs wanted Myah to only have one home. They were willing to adopt her.
The thought of adoption was not in question for Rhonda, who would become a mom of a child who is 19 years younger than her biological youngest, but she did have to think about how Myah would change the family dynamic.
“It wasn’t a question, but I had to do some soul-searching about being a mom again. I have two grown children, so I worried about my age raising a child. I also worried about a transracial adoption, not from my perspective but how was it going to affect Myah.”
The Arthurs are Caucasian, and Myah is African-American.
As a result, they switched churches. They tried to surround Myah with people that have similar multiethnic mindsets. The move to a different church and the process of caring for six African-American placements has drastically changed Mr. Arthur’s view on race.
“Whenever I was younger and less knowledgeable about foster care and the plight of orphans, I didn’t realize the racist tendencies that I had in my life. Now, I really struggle with being hypersensitive to it, being judgmental of other people. I have to remember that it wasn’t long ago that I probably thought the same thing that they think. It’s a process. You become very aware of racial things and racism from places you didn’t really know were there until it is right in your face.”
Although Myah has greatly impacted the family’s dynamic, the Arthurs had no issues with adopting from foster care. However, the ease of Myah’s adoption from foster care is far from typical.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Sciences, the number of children in the foster care system who await adoption has grown 50 percent from 2004 to 2013 in Tennessee, growing from 1,776 children in 2004 to 2,668 children in 2013.
In contrast, the number of children adopted in Tennessee through the foster care system over the ten-year span never reached over 1,159. In 2013, 30 percent of the children in Tennessee’s foster system awaiting adoption were adopted. The relatively low percentage could be due to the lack of good communication between the state and third-party organizations.
Bethany Christian Services, an international organization, works with children who are in need of a home through foster care or adoption. Their stated mission is to provide a loving family for every child. Office Manager Hannah Johnson, who works at Bethany’s Knoxville location, finds that some adoptions via foster care do not go as well as they should due to lack of a partnership.
“A common obstacle is the lack of different agencies with the same goal effectively working together,” Johnson said. “Bethany often runs into this with DCS because they do not want us interfering with their cases. But if we are all working towards the same ultimate goal, shouldn’t we be more willing to work together?”
Myah’s adoption day was a formalization of what had already been decided by the Arthurs months prior. However, the promise that the two made in court is never lost on them.
Mrs. Arthur doesn’t recall much of the court date when the family’s previous placements left. That was a blur. On Myah’s final court date, however, she remembers everything.
“It was great standing there in front of a judge and promising to treat her as our own, keep her as part of our family forever, treat her equally to our other children. Like any formal event like that, yes it was just a formalization of what had already happened up to that point, but I still thought it was so important to finalize that and say that in public and have that recorded for Myah.”
Myah — now a two-year-old — has officially been an Arthur for nearly one year. She sports a sassy personality and truly believes she is queen the house. The Arthurs welcome the attitude with open arms, allowing her to be herself just like any kid should.
The parents still laugh about the Arthur family dynamic — two middle-aged parents, a 23-year-old nurse, a 21-year-old college student and a two-year-old.
“In private, [people] probably think we’re crazy,” Mrs. Arthur says with a smile. “For the most part, people are accepting. In some ways, it is a challenge having adult children and a two-year-old. Obviously, there are things we would do if we didn’t have a two-year-old, but it is worth it.”
The Arthurs did not go into foster care expecting a third child. But, they would not want it any other way.
Although their story of adoption continues as each day passes, the family’s journey was not always easy. However, they encourage parents who feel led to foster care to take the leap of faith.
“I don’t think the trouble of preparing, the pain of letting them go or the changing of your lifestyle is a sacrifice too big,” Mrs. Arthur said.
All the sacrifices, the pain, the sleepless nights, the physical exhaustion — they led to giving one child a place to call home forever.
Through faith, Eric and Rhonda Arthur pushed through the circumstances. Because of faith, they were blessed with a third child. And from here on out, Myah Faith Arthur will forever be apart of the Arthur family.