Expanding a family through foster care and adoption is a beautiful and rewarding process, but it can be daunting to start. Children’s Bureau strives to create a warm and welcoming community for new and returning resource families of all kinds. For one couple in particular, Children’s Bureau was there to offer support when welcoming their first foster child into their home, processing the grief when that child reunited with his birth family, and ultimately when they were introduced to Tyrek who they fostered and adopted just 13 months later. Read the interview below to learn more about their experience with Children’s Bureau and welcoming Tyrek into their family.
CB: How did you find Children’s Bureau and why did you choose to foster/ adopt through this agency?
When we decided to expand our family, we knew we would need help making that happen. After exploring the various options, the only path that felt right for us was foster-to-adopt. We also wanted an agency that would be open to working with a gay couple and that would support us on the journey. After lots of research, we narrowed the options down to a few agencies. Then an acquaintance referred us to Children’s Bureau. She had such positive things to say that we added Children’s Bureau to the list. After our first information session at another agency, I almost called the whole thing off. The process seemed cold and institutional. The next weekend, we had an information session at Children’s Bureau’s Magnolia Place. What a stark contrast! Even the building was bright, welcoming, and happy.
We were greeted warmly by Children’s Bureau staff and there were two other gay couples in our information session. Maria, who led the session, was very open, optimistic, and warm. She talked about the community at Children’s Bureau and how they support families through their journey. During that meeting, two different couples unexpectedly stopped in to visit and show off the child that had joined their family the day before. If one of the first things you want to do as a new parent is share that joy with your agency, then they must be a true part of your community like friends and family. We knew then that we wanted to be a part of the Children’s Bureau community.
CB: Tell us about your experience with Children’s Bureau. How has the organization helped you on this journey?
We started PRIDE training a month after our information session. Cindy Stogel, Foster Care and Adoption Coordinator, taught our class. Six years later, I consider Cindy a friend and can say that we tap into what she taught us daily. We made friends and connections at Children’s Bureau that have helped us through both the most rewarding and hardest times. If I can give any advice, it is absorbing as much information in training as possible and work closely with the Children’s Bureau team. It really makes a difference. The friends you make in the foster/adopt community will understand your journey like no one else can.
Like typical type-A personalities, we were very focused and driven to be parents. We completed training and certification very quickly–just under two months. Three days later, a one-year-old boy joined our family. We taught him his name, to babble, his first word (“Yay!”), and to have an opinion. County social workers told us we would be able to adopt him and we let that seed of hope grow in our hearts. He was with us for two and a half months before very suddenly reunifying with his family. It was devastating. We were not sure how we would get through the pain. We reached out to Children’s Bureau and they connected us with families who had experienced losing a child to reunification. We really wanted someone to tell us exactly what to do to make the pain go away but obviously, that is not possible. There are no short cuts in managing grief. However, it did help to talk to other people who had healed and tried again. We realized we needed to give ourselves time to get through it. And we did. Lots of tears and a few months later, we put our names back on the list.
One day I received a call about an 18-month-old healthy happy boy. I said yes before even talking to Dawn. A few days later, Tyrek joined our family on Halloween. Best treat EVER! Children’s Bureau and its community helped all along our journey. We made friends and learned about additional resources in the monthly support groups. What we learned helped us advocate for Tyrek in a complex system. We fostered Tyrek for 13 months before finalizing his adoption. It was one of the best days of my life.
Even after finalizing our adoption, we stayed in contact with the Children’s Bureau team. Fostering another child is not something we can do right now but we really wanted to do more. We wanted to give back and help more families and children. We knew we could help by sharing our story and encouraging other families which would ultimately help more children than we could fit in our home. I started guest speaking at the information sessions and at agency awareness/ recruitment events. Cindy asked us to join the Parent Panel that’s part of the final day of PRIDE training. We were able to share our experience to help other families starting their foster/ adopt journey. Eventually, Cindy asked me to co-facilitate the PRIDE training. I was honored that she valued my perspective and trusted me to initiate families into the CB community. The material can be heavy at times, especially when talking about grief and loss, but co-facilitating is a very rewarding experience.
Our son has experienced tremendous loss in his life. Goodbyes and transitions are very hard for him. We talk a lot about goodbyes in our home. Little goodbyes, Medium goodbyes, and Big goodbyes. Little is mom going to work, medium is Grandpa who lives out of town but visits often, and big is when you do not get to see someone again. Last year, Tyrek transitioned to a new school after being at his old school for three years (half his life). It was a very big loss for him. Even though we kept in contact with friends and former teachers, it hit Tyrek like a ton of bricks. He was really struggling, and we knew we needed to get him help. We reached out to lots of friends and connections but were struggling to find resources experienced with the unique needs of foster kids. I emailed Cindy Stogel with the details of what was happening to see if she could refer anyone. We learned Children’s Bureau could help! She connected us with the Adoption Promotion and Support Services (APSS) team at Children’s Bureau. They helped us to quickly get the specific support we needed. We are still receiving APSS services. Have I said yet that we LOVE Children’s Bureau? We do. Not only did they help us start our family, but they are helping us keep it healthy.
CB: What inspired you to become foster parents and how has it changed your life?
We initially just wanted to be parents and Foster to Adopt was the only way we were comfortable growing our family. Private adoption or medical methods did not feel right to us. There are amazing kids out there who needed a family. Through training we learned more about the foster system and how many children are in foster care. It became something larger for us. We wanted to help as many kids as we could but neither of us wanted a huge family. We are big champions for foster care. I am sure my friends and co-workers are going to tell me to shut up eventually.
The biggest change for us was simply becoming parents. Our lives are completely transformed. I will always consider our first foster my first son. He lives in my heart even if I cannot nurture and watch him grow. When we lost him, I was not sure my heart would heal. Instead, like the Grinch’s, it grew three sizes and made us the moms we are today. Our son Tyrek is the “perfect” kid for us. He is everything we could ever have wanted plus more. He is a creative and imaginative high-energy seven-year-old and doing a great job to entertain, challenge and keeps us on our toes every day. Nothing melts my heart more than when he tells me, “This was the best day ever,” after a casual day of hanging out together.
CB: What are some of the challenges you have faced raising a child as a gay couple? How have you overcome those challenges?
Tyrek has two moms, but he really wants a dad, too. Family, friends and even mannies (male nannies) help to fill the gap but nothing takes the place of a dad when that is what you really want. Helping Tyrek with those feelings and making sure he has the role models he needs is going to be a lifelong challenge.
One of our biggest frustrations was in getting Tyrek’s birth certificate. He was born in Texas and his new birth certificate had to be issued by Texas. However, they had laws that prohibited listing two people of the same sex as parents on vital records. Even though he was legally adopted in California, they refused to issue a certificate with both of us on it. There were several legal cases in the courts to challenge the law, so we decided to hang tight to see how they played out. Eventually, gay marriage became legal in the US. The Texas law was overturned, as well, but in the meantime, Texas added red tape that made the process cumbersome. Our lawyer was ultimately able to crack the code and four years after finalizing Tyrek’s adoption we received his birth certificate.
CB: What should a gay or lesbian couple know going into the adoption process? What advice would you give new parents in a similar situation?
We live in Los Angeles near West Hollywood where gay and lesbian families are common. That has made our journey more typical of any family going through the adoption process. At times, we were the only gay family at Tyrek’s small pre-schools. It was up to us to carry the gay “torch” but also the adoption, foster and transracial family torches. We talked to the schools to make sure they included non-traditional family structures in their curriculum. It is essential that we work with all of Tyrek’s teachers, doctors, and caretakers to make sure they appropriately understand and support him. We keep our creative hats on all the time. When we could not find books with characters that represented our family, we bought people color markers and made modifications. We seek out places in our community where our son can interact with others like us and him. Community is very important. Ours has transformed immensely since we became parents.
CB: Tell us about Tyrek.
Tyrek is fast. When we first got him, he had us chasing him down the street and through the park early in the morning. He loved the thrill of being chased. He still gets an adrenaline rush from it. If they made chase an Olympic sport, he would win the gold. Watching Tyrek’s interests and skills develop over the years has been fascinating. Nature and nurture at work. Tyrek sings day and night. As a baby, he would hum the sing-song of words before he could say them. My wife Dawn shares her love of musical theater with him. Their morning ride to school features show tunes from Hamilton to Annie. Tyrek also loves hair. In preschool, Tyrek would touch the long hair of the girls in his class. Now he is braiding and styling it. The other day he pointed out a storefront building and talked about the hair salon he would have when he is big. He would cut and color, I would comb, and Dawn would be the in-house chef. Nature at work again.