One day in the fall of 2008, Karen turned to her partner of 20 years, Edwina, and said, “Let’s adopt. We have so much to offer children.” A year later, they were the proud mothers of four sibling boys ages 9, 7, 5, and 4.
But the road leading up was long and rough for the brothers, who had lingered in the system and been separated numerous times in foster care. Had it not been for the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), a law that then–First Lady Hillary Clinton worked across the aisle to build support for in Congress, their adoption might not have been possible.
Both Karen and Edwina grew up in large, close-knit families, and they knew from the start that they wanted to adopt a group of siblings out of foster care. But finding them proved difficult. Many states have long backlogs of children in foster care, but Karen and Edwina had a difficult time using state websites to find children waiting to be adopted. Thanks in part to the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which helps facilitate adoptions across state lines, Karen and Edwina were able to look beyond their home state of Georgia when they were ready to adopt.
Karen and Edwina searched extensively across the country. After months of looking and applying, they were matched with four brothers from Texas. It took them only seconds to confirm that they wanted to adopt these brothers, but they had to wait for the boys to accept. “Throughout the day, we had a TV monitor dedicated to the few pics of the boys we had from the website,” Karen said. “We ran this on a loop and crossed our fingers nightly. We wanted these boys. We knew they were our family.”
When they heard how Joe, Jon, Justin, and Luke reacted to the possibility of two moms, Edwina and Karen were ecstatic and could finally relax. “The boys were asked by the social worker how they felt about two moms. They were also presented with a heterosexual couple. The kids say they chose us. As they tell it, they were excited; two moms were better than one,” Karen recalls.
The boys, like so many kids in the foster care system, have special needs stemming from the instability and neglect they suffered in their pre-adoption lives. Because of this, Edwina and Karen prepared to welcome four new members to their family, they also had to prepare for their emotional and developmental needs, which can be overwhelming and expensive.
Thanks to the ASFA, they had access to health care coverage and support services, which eased some of the financial burden. Therefore, instead of focusing on the stress of how to make ends meet, they were able to spend time time getting to know their children and nurture the loving, caring family Karen and Edwina knew they were meant to be.
Over the past six years, they have learned that their boys love meeting people, traveling, and playing sports. Joe loves to play volleyball. Jon is one of the fastest freshman 800-meter runners in the state of Indiana. Luke is a great negotiator — a constant refrain of his is, “OK, Mom, let’s make a deal.” And Justin, only in sixth grade, is wise well beyond his years. He recently told Karen, “Mom, you have to be proud of what you believe in and stand your ground. This is how we change the world.”
It hasn’t always been easy, but Karen and Edwina are certainly proud of the family they’ve become together — and believe that every child and every person deserves the chance to be loved and respected.
“We can effect change in the world with human kindness and compassion. Jon, Joe, Justin, and Luke are in the process of becoming compassionate human beings and learning that they have a tremendous reserve of potential they’ve yet to tap. They are excited about their futures,” Edwina said.