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Catholic Charities adoption program helps family find ‘Waiting Child’ in foster care

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Amanda and Nate Johnson of Stafford always felt drawn to the idea of adopting.

“It was a desire we both had, even before we met each other,” said Amanda. The time seemed right after the births of their three daughters, now ages 9, 7 and 5.

Even when you have a biological child, you still don’t know who is joining your family; they have their own personality, their own likes and dislikes.” Amanda Johnson

Unlike many couples, they weren’t necessarily looking for a baby. “We’ve been blessed with three healthy babies,” Amanda said. They knew there was a great need to find homes for older children, but they weren’t interested in becoming foster parents; when they found their child, they wanted to know “it was going to be permanent,” she said.

Then they heard about Arlington Catholic Charities’ Waiting Child program, which matches families with children in the U.S. foster care system — more than 100,000 are waiting to be adopted.

“We don’t have a foster care program in the Diocese of Arlington, but we do have a foster care adoption program,” said Meaghan Lane, program director. The three-year-old program “is focused on the unique needs of children who are already legally available for adoption.”

Licensed with the state since 1947, Catholic Charities works with families on the home study and approval process, then helps match the family with a waiting child. Catholic Charities coordinates with social workers in other states and continues to work with the family after the child is placed.

Although they volunteered with youth groups at their nondenominational Christian church, bringing a teen into the family seemed out of the question at first, said Amanda, who thought 15 or 16 was “way too old — I can’t do that.” But as she prayed about it, she recalled that she had been 15 when she became a Christian. What if she’d been told that was too old to join the family of Christ?

“That was a big gut check,” she said, and a door that had been closed opened in her heart.

Catholic Charities provides training to equip parents for new challenges. Many children “come into foster care because of abuse and neglect; being placed in foster care is an additional trauma,” said Lane. Many remain in the system for years, and “each move is a setback for them.”

As they waited, “I was just really praying God would bring (the child) who was meant to join our family to us, and it would be very clear,” Amanda said. But waiting was difficult. “I knew our child wasn’t OK, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do.”

One day they got an email from Katherine McManus, their Catholic Charities social worker, about a 13-year-old boy in Ohio who had been in foster care for four years. As they learned more, they continued to feel comfortable moving forward.

Once they said yes, “it moved very quickly,” she added. “God just placed a huge amount of love in my heart for him early in the process.”

“All the doors kept getting opened,” added Nate. “The social workers and adoption workers put in the time to help us make sure everything was good for our family.”

They got word that they officially were matched March 14 — “the day everything shut down because of the coronavirus,” Amanda said.

Their first meeting was through a video chat and everyone was nervous. To help him feel wanted and welcomed, Amanda made a book “about Nate and I and his new sisters, and what we like to do as a family” — hiking, visiting historical places, going to the beach.

When they drove to Ohio to pick him up in July, the whole family went along, including their two dogs and two cats. Amanda said it reminded her of going to the hospital in labor with her daughters. “Even when you have a biological child, you still don’t know who is joining your family; they have their own personality, their own likes and dislikes.”

The adoption process actually took longer than a pregnancy; the Johnsons have been working with Catholic Charities for about a year and a half.  “Once we got all of the paperwork, people kept saying ‘You’re paper pregnant,’ ” said Amanda, showing a photo with a thick stack of adoption papers held to her stomach.

The family will be able to petition to finalize the adoption after the child has been in his new home for six months, Lane said; adoptions are typically finalized six to nine months after placement.

For the Johnsons and other families, faith is an important part of the adoption process. Many parents who seek out Catholic Charities “come to us because they want to work with staff and counselors whose faith motivates their work,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge in a statement for National Adoption Month.

But a growing number of cities and other jurisdictions won’t work with faith-based agencies that refuse to place children in situations that violate the agencies’ religious beliefs, such as with same-sex couples or unmarried heterosexual couples. The Supreme Court heard a case on this issue Nov. 4, involving a Catholic foster care agency in Philadelphia shut out from the city’s foster care program.

“Adoption is a deeply personal decision and experience,” said Lane. “For families who are driven by their faith to pursue adoption, working with an agency that shares their values is essential.”

In Virginia, a law on the books since 2012 says child welfare agencies cannot be forced to participate in placements that violate their beliefs. An attempt to repeal the law failed in the 2020 legislative session, but is expected to be reintroduced next year. Bishop Burbidge asked Catholics to pray for continued protection for faith-based agencies.

For the Johnsons, having a new teen in the family “has been good, and a challenge. It’s really sweet to see the bond our girls are building with him as a big brother and seeing him become more comfortable in our home,” said Amanda, who is home-schooling all four children.

As the time to finalize their adoption approaches, people have confided to Amanda that “they always wanted to adopt, and just never did. And I think ‘Why?’ ” she said. “The need is great. If that’s a desire on your heart, there’s a child out there that needs you. You have to continue to pursue it.”

Find out more

Read about Catholic Charities’ Waiting Child adoption program

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020