My wife Michele and I have been involved in the respite/foster/adoptive world for the last 25 years or so (no wonder we feel so old!)
Recently we were approached by one of the staff at the Institute for Professional Practice who we were with prior to adopting Siraya. She wanted to write a piece that would help encourage others to look at becoming foster or adoptive parents.
If you are here in Connecticut, IPP or the Foster Adoptive Mission are great people to get in touch with and I am sure there are similar organizations around the country. Here’s the piece taken from this month’s FAM newsletter:
In honor of National Foster Care Awareness Month, The Institute of Professional Practice, Inc. (IPPI) would like to recognize and thank one exceptional family that specializes in supporting children with medically complex needs. It is with great pride and sincere appreciation that we share Michele and Justin’s story this month.
Michele and Justin met while working as counselors at a summer camp for children with intellectual disabilities in Long Island. Justin was born and raised in Scotland. He came to the US for three consecutive summers to work at this camp while pursuing a degree as an RN for individuals with special needs. Michelle and Justin’s friendship blossomed into a relationship. They married and started a family while in Scotland for 8 years. In 1995, they moved to Connecticut with their then three year old daughter and six month old son. Michele was a full time homemaker and very involved in her children’s school community. She came to know a family that was foster parenting with IPPI, which sparked her interest in expanding her family through foster care. In 2002, Michele and Justin became licensed with IPPI.
The first child that joined their family was a little girl with a trauma history and significant behavioral issues. They successfully transitioned her into the home of a relative and came to realize that they wanted to focus on fostering individuals with developmental disabilities and medical complexities. From that point on, this family has cared for three medically complex youth over the span of the past 12 years. Michele and Justin are no longer licensed with IPPI, but they are the proud adoptive parents of a little girl who has made remarkable gains over the years and defied the odds. Let me tell you about little Siraya.
Michele and Justin met Siraya in 2007 when she was just five weeks old. Siraya had a myriad of medical issues and was only given a six month life expectancy. The doctors didn’t believe that she would ever have any physical abilities or emotional experiences. Michele and Justin talked with their two biological children who were now in middle and high school. As a family, they decided to care for this baby and support her for however long she would live. Day by day, week by week, Siraya made very tiny gains that over time translated into small steps in the direction of progress. With the support of a large multidisciplinary treatment team, a ton of love and care, Siraya progressed beyond belief. On June 18, 2012, Michelle and Justin solidified their lifelong commitment to Siraya through adoption. To this day, they continue to work with a variety of treatment providers to support Siraya and help her reach her fullest potential. This family has a strong circle of support that includes an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a behaviorist, a behavioral aide, and nursing services.
I recently caught up with Michelle and she said Siraya is doing remarkably! She is now 7 ½ years old. She crawls at the speed of lightning. They recently had a mobility specialist come to the home and place red stripes on doorways so Siraya can safely maneuver herself throughout the main level of the home. She has an amazing appetite and can now independently feed herself. Although she is non-verbal and visually impaired, she can communicate through the use of pictures. For instance, you can show her photos of different snack items and she can choose what she wants to eat. She can also push a voice activated button to open the front door, where she loves to sit and feel the sun on her face.
Michele said that every little step is a reward when fostering a medically complex individual. It’s hearing ‘They will never do this’ and then witnessing them defying the odds and actually doing it!
I asked Michele and Justin what advice they would give someone who was contemplating becoming a foster parent for a medically complex youth. They said, “Set up a network of support and respite services as it really does take a village!”
Christy George-Tottenham, LMFT
The Institute of Professional Practice, Inc.