Hi I’m Warren, and I’m John, we live in Birmingham, Alabama, we have two children, one is 13 and one is 10, and we entered into the foster care system.
Deciding to Form a Family
Warren: We actually met in college 23 or 24 years ago. I don’t think we talked about kids for probably the first ten years or so. Our siblings started having kids and we started the conversation and it went on for a couple of years. It was Thanksgiving that we decided we were going to have kids. We were driving back from a family get together with my family, and we had about a four-hour drive, and over the course of that four hours, we talked ourselves into it.
John: I think prior to that we had lived about 1500 miles away from home for about five years, so we were probably back home for a couple years, and for the first couple years there were issues with siblings about whether we could come or whether we couldn’t be around the kids, and an emergency had happened and we sort of came back together as a family, and we’ve been able to see them all. I think it was at that point when just being around all the kids, and they were all 5, 6, 7 years old, it seemed great.
Warren: We had looked into some other options. We lived in Minnesota at the time and there was a big conference up in the Twin Cities about gay parents and the various options that were available to people. So we met with fertility specialists and private adoptions and the different agencies that did that, and the foster care system, international adoptions. They had brought in a lot of speakers to present their stories; they had people who had been adopted as international adoptions, who had been adopted through private adoptions, and foster care. It gave us a good idea to talk to people who had been through what we had been through but also the kids’side of it.
John: So the person that helped us the most was my friend Martin, who was a private school teacher. He dealt with a lot of kids that were in trouble and he made us think about foster care through the county as an option. So from there we went to a meeting, I think it was in February of 2003 and it was “Come get to know us and see if you’re interested,” and they told us about programs and how they did it and I think we got interested at that point and went in that direction. I don’t think after that we considered any other options.
John and Warren completed their foster care training while living in Minnesota. After they were fully approved and licensed, a few months passed before they received their first placement. His name is Roy.
Warren: I got the call, I was self-employed and working from home at the time, so I took the call and it was very interesting because they didn’t seem to know much about him. They thought that he might be Middle Eastern descent and they didn’t know a lot about anything at that time. It wasn’t our caseworker who called us, it was the caseworker that was working with his birth family at the time, so our caseworker didn’t really know much about it. It happened on a Thursday, I want to say, and we talked it over Thursday night and Friday, and then on Saturday we made arrangements to meet him in person at the home that he had been staying at.
John: So he was staying at a home of someone who was just doing short-term respite care, and she was also running a daycare in her home on Saturday, so she didn’t have the other kids but she had Roy there. Her basement was sort of set up like a toy room, lots of toys, so we just went down there with him and played toys with him. He’s very talkative, but not very good at playing with toys, he never has been, so it was basically just sitting there talking with a 3 and a half-year-old, which was kind of weird for me. We were there for an hour, hour and a half, and the people whose house it was were like, “Okay so are you going to take him?” and then they kind of sent us out the door with him. And we thought, “This was odd, we were just coming here to meet him,” but they had decided he needed to go, there was no social worker involved, so we took him home for the weekend, and our social worker called us on Monday to see how things went and we were like, “Oh, it’s great he’s been here for three days!” So they just kind of straightened things out but he was with us from that time on. I remember our social worker was confused, and she said, “Well, I’m going to go talk to some other social workers,” and I think she probably called his case worker and they confabbed about it, and I think the reality was, the person he was with didn’t want him, and like every county they are shorthanded, so they accepted the fact that he was with us even though that wouldn’t have been their first bet. But he worked out fine; there were no major issues or anything.
Warren: And he was in our age range, I don’t think it would have been a stretch for them to eventually tried to place him with us. It just kind of happened rather oddly, I think, for everyone involved. So Doty called us on Monday to see how it had gone and I remember it was maybe Wednesday or Thursday that week we were in her office signing the paperwork to make it a legitimate placement. Minnesota had a slightly different program as part of their foster care system called Concurrent Planning, where they are trying to get the child reunited with the birth parent but at the same time they are building up Plan B, so that was the program that we had fallen into. We were foster parents, we were Plan B for him, and over the course of the next six months, we worked with his birth parents to help however we could so that he could be reunited with them.
Roy remained with them for six months before being reunited with his birth mother. Warren and John stayed in Roy’s life as weekly caregivers but after three weeks, Roy was placed back in their home.
Roy was in their home for one year before Warren and John were told that they would be his forever family.
The “Forever Family” Call
Warren: At that point we were having fairly regular meetings with our caseworker, and she during one of those meetings said, “We’re moving on to Plan B, how do you guys feel about being his forever home?”
John: I remember that conversation and it was basically then asking, “Are you still up for it?” or “Having been with him this year, have you decided to maybe let someone else have the opportunity?” So they were just double-checking with us, but it was always our intention to adopt.
Warren: It was heck yeah; we didn’t have to think about it at that point.
In their case, the open adoption would allow Joey’s birth parents to remain in Joey’s life while he remained in Warren and John’s care. John was scheduled to relocate to Birmingham, Alabama in August. Joey’s birth mother wasn’t fully on board with allowing Joey to move to Alabama with John and Warren and regained custody of Joey.
After John, Warren and Roy moved to Alabama. Joey’s mother returned him to foster care in Minnesota. Warren and John returned to Minnesota for the Christmas holiday, picked Joey up, and took him home.
John: It was Thanksgiving, roughly, and I got a call from our old caseworker in Minnesota who I hadn’t talked to in over a year and she’s like, “Well you know, he’s coming back, and we really don’t want to have to find a new family for him, it’s really hard on him, so if you guys could, would you be able to do it?” So we drove home for Christmas vacation to see our family, we maybe got there the 23rd of December or the 24th of December and went and picked him up. I just went over, picked him up, brought him home, he probably hadn’t seen us in over a year and a half or so. When he first came to us he was 18 months old, so at the time that I picked him up there he was probably 3 and a half. I don’t know that he even remembered us at all, but he wasn’t a problem.
Warren: The foster family that he was with had some pictures of us that we had sent to our caseworker, so they had shown him some of these pictures when they knew that the placement was falling apart there, they were kind of trying to ease him off of it. They had these pictures of us, I thought maybe we had it hanging on the wall, he was at our house and it was his second birthday party, and there’s a picture of him with the birthday cake in front of him and his face is just pure ecstasy, he’s looking at this cake like, “Get in my belly,” and he called that his “happy cake.” So he had this picture and one of us is in the background of the picture, so in his “happy cake” picture he had a picture of one of us. We were back in Minnesota for about a week, and we had that initial visit with him on Christmas Eve, and by the time we were ready to leave and drive back to Alabama, they had him back in our family, they had signed all the paperwork and everything to make us his foster parents again, and they wanted him to drive back to Alabama with us. So we had driven up there, kind of a similar story to Roy, we had driven up there thinking that we were just going to visit with him, and ended up driving.
They returned to Alabama as Joey’s foster parents, but it wasn’t long before they received the news that they would be his forever family.
Warren: At that point, they had a thirty-day temporary placement, so for thirty days he could live with us out of state, but at the end of those thirty days we had to have him back in Minnesota for that conference. We had to sit down with them and actually say, you know, “Yes, we want to be his permanent family.” They must have known that we were going to say yes because we were back in Minnesota for three days and at the end of the three days we were in front of the judge finalizing the adoption.
Warren, John, and their sons Roy and Joey currently live in Alabama. They completed both Roy and Joey’s adoptions in Minnesota and the boys still remain in contact with their birth families.
Warren: Well I think we understood, from working with both sets of birth parents, how critical their role is in the life of both boys. That’s not a bond that they are ever going to forget, or it’s never going to go away, and I certainly don’t want to try to take that away from them. We were always open to it as long as it was in the best interest of the boys that they could maintain contact with their birth parents. With Roy, she kind of, she had a rough spell when she lost custody of him and it was probably four or five years before we heard from her again. She contacted us, and we spent a lot of time on the phone with her, and letters, and emails and everything, to make sure that she understood how difficult those last five years had been on him, because he went from contact with his birth mom on a weekly basis, to she’s completely out of the picture and nobody knows where she is. So we wanted her to understand that if she did make contact with him again, that it was going to be permanent contact and that she wasn’t going to just come in and out of his life at will, and she’s been very good since then. It’s been interesting to see his growth with that contact. As he gets older, he’s kind of holding her a little more accountable for things that he remembers that she did, and also making her live up to it and be honest with him, and he asks her some really tough questions. I’m very proud of both of them for the way that they handle it. There are still times where he will decide that he’s too mad at her and doesn’t want to talk to her ever again, but he will forgive her and they have some interesting conversations. With Joey it’s been harder. We reinitiated contact with her maybe two years after the adoption was finalized, but it’s strictly been through our caseworker up until about a year ago when we actually exchanged email ad dresses with her. So she knows now where he is and that he’s with us. Initially our caseworker didn’t want us to know that he was with us, that he had moved to Alabama, so she was kind of the go-between. We would send her letters and she would pass them on to the birth mom and the birth mom would send her letters and she would pass them on to us. And now Joey’s got his own email address and will email her questions, and often emails her the same question over and over and over again, I don’t know if he’s expecting a different answer each time or if he’s just keeping her on her toes.
John: It goes in periods. He’ll want to email her every night for a period and then he’ll just stop for a month or two and I’ll ask him, “You haven’t emailed her in a while,” and he’s like, “Nah, I don’t feel like it.”
Warren: Very active, very stinky teenage boys.
John: Yeah both of them are very athletic, very active, they want to be outside and have a great time, which is great, but also difficult sometimes. And being dads down here, I mean it may be the fact that we live in a very somewhat nice suburb for it, I am sure there are lots and lots of communities in Alabama that would be just scary to deal with it, but for the most part it’s been fine here. Generally when people have a problem they keep it to themselves. Certainly there are a lot of people out there we just never hear from or see from and that’s fine.
Warren: Yeah, I mean both boys have had friendships that have fallen apart because the parents have learned that they’ve got two dads, and they’re just not willing to deal with that. But they’ve both made great friends, and through them we’ve made great friends with the parents of these other kids, and we’ve developed a nice circle of friends, a kind of Alabama family.
Warren and John took a moment to reflect on being Dads with growing boys.
John: It’s complicated. They never turn out quite the way you want, they’re both turning out perfectly and they’re going to be happy adults, and I can’t wait to see the men they grow into. But half the time I just need them to stop what they’re doing and do it the way I tell them to, so we’re all happy.
Roy and Joey stood close by to listen to the conversation.
Then they decided to join us.
Warren: Well I would summarize it all down into one word: wonderment. They amaze me every single day and like John said I look forward to the men that they will grow into.
There are more than 400,000 youth in the foster care system. 100,000 of them are available for adoption today. Learn more about how you can help open more homes for youth in foster care. Urge your Members of Congress to support The Every Child Deserves a Family Act and let’s help youth in care find their forever home.