While financial strain, health issues and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have squashed some people’s plans to adopt children in the country, some North Central families are thriving as they raise youths who are not their offspring.
These families say they did not hesitate to open their homes and hearts to children whose biological parents were not able to care for them.
As adults contend with virtual learning, job losses and higher childcare costs, parenting has been heavily impacted by the pandemic. There are more than 110,000 adoptions around the United States every year, according to a Parents.com article released earlier this year. While exact numbers are not available, some adoption agencies across the country have noticed a decrease in adoptions because of the global health crisis, Parents.com reported.
Child Crisis Arizona, a non-profit organization that offers support to foster care and adoption families, has seen a drop in the numbers of families who want to serve children in foster care or adopt youths since 2017, said Torrie Taj, CEO of the organization. Taj said the numbers continuing to decrease last year were likely partly due to the pandemic.
“We have heard that a number of times with individuals saying they want to learn more about it but now is not the time because their family has had too much stress,” Taj said. “If you go through Child Crisis Arizona we are going to hold your hand and provide those resources for you. We’re going to figure out if it’s workable and what’s in the best interest of the family and the child.”
There were about 13,800 children in the foster care system in Arizona, as of press time. As the state’s population grows and more children enter the foster care system, there is a great need for families to foster and adopt youths, especially older kids, Taj said.
Child Crisis Arizona held its Brunch for Love Community Fundraiser recently, where foster and adoptive parents and a man who was adopted as a child shared their inspiring stories.
A journey to parenthood began before the pandemic for Quianna Brown and her fiancé, Joe Wiskur, of North Central. When Brown’s sister suffered mental health issues and needed support, Brown took in her sister’s daughter, Annalisa, now 10 years old. Brown obtained permanent guardianship of Annalisa and will adopt her next year. She and Joe also are raising Lilah, 6, and Kylynn, 4, who were in the state foster care system previously and not relatives of theirs, and she has adopted them.
In the past, Brown was a foster mother to other children who were not relatives, who later reunified with their biological families.
“I got into it to help kids,” she said. “I give everything I’ve got. Years ago I had taken care of other family members’ kids short term. It was really easy to take her (Annalisa) in.”
She and Joe said foster parent training classes they took through Child Crisis Arizona, as well as support groups, helped prepare them for their growing family. They said their daughters’ traumatic experiences early in life have caused some challenges for them, including behavioral issues. The couple had to fight for a year to have Lilah tested before they discovered she is autistic. They said all three girls were hurting emotionally and they had to learn how to provide them with love, including teaching their daughters coping skills.
There are more than 200,000 children in Arizona living in “kinship” families, according to the Children’s Action Alliance. Those families include grandparents, other relatives and close family friends raising children without the biological parents in the home. Arizona’s Children Association works with kinship families by providing support groups, parenting skills education, as well as foster care licensing and adoption support, connections to food, clothes and housing, among other services, said Karen Wouters, parent trainer at the association.
Wouters said earlier in the pandemic the organization saw fewer people expressing an interest in becoming foster or adoptive parents but interest is picking up again. Classes and trainings are often offered online/virtually.
LaRay Lewis, 54, adopted her granddaughter, Adrianna, now 3, after Adrianna was born with a drug addiction. Adrianna’s biological mother died of a drug overdose in 2019 and her father, who is Lewis’ son, has had his parental rights terminated due to his previous drug abuse. He has been sober for almost a year and visits his daughter often. Lewis’s other adult son has five children who enjoy playing with Adrianna. She and her partner, Aaron Patterson, 63, have raised Adrianna in their home and say that Adrianna was a well-behaved baby who slept a lot and rarely cried. Lewis said once Adrianna was two and a half years old and was walking, it did feel overwhelming at times raising her but she would not have it any other way. Adrianna is doing well and loves playing outside, as well as drawing and swimming.
Lewis added that classes that the Arizona’s Children Association offered were “real eye openers” as far as learning how to raise a child she did not give birth to and connected her and Patterson with other couples experiencing similar journeys.
“I feel as close to her as I did my boys when they were that age,” she said. “I chose to keep her with me because she’s my blood, she’s my grandchild.”
To learn more about Arizona’s Children Association, visit www.arizonaschildren.org. For more information about Child Crisis Arizona, visit https://childcrisisaz.org.