LINCOLNTON – The foster system takes its toll on everyone involved, from the social workers to the foster families, and, of course, the children who find themselves in foster care. That’s why every adoption is a cause for celebration, and why the Lincoln County Department of Social Services holds an annual adoption recognition ceremony to acknowledge those in the community who have stepped forward to adopt during the past year.
“Family is a huge word here,” Lincoln County Department of Social Services Executive Director Tony Carpenter said at the Nov. 30 ceremony. “Family doesn’t have to mean blood, color or any of that. Family means efforts by a group of people to take care of folks that they love. … It takes a large effort by a lot of different people in a lot of different areas to help these kids and help their families as well. There is a lot of work yet to be done because there are many more children out there that we need to do right by, and so, in this celebration, we thank you for what you’ve done, what you continue to do and what you will do in the future.”
There are currently 115 children in the custody of the Lincoln County Department of Social Services, which marks a 30-percent increase over the past two years. Due to limited foster care in the area, nearly one-third of the children in the agency’s care have had to be placed with foster families that live outside Lincoln County.
On the final day of November, which is recognized nationally as Adoption Awareness Month, the Lincoln County Department of Social Services celebrated nine local families who opened their hearts and their homes to a child through adoption in 2018. The department also recognized 10 additional families for independent adoptions in which a step-parent or grandparent adopts a child without them ever having to go through the foster system.
“I get choked up just thinking about the joy for everyone involved on this day,” Lincoln County foster care and adoption social worker Lara Bowles said. “These children become almost like our children during their time in foster care. We know their dates of birth, their Social Security numbers, we take them to the doctor and we hear about all the things that have happened to them in their past, so we become very connected to these children. When we’re able to see them either go home with their biological family or be adopted by a loving family, it is just the most rewarding thing for us. That’s what we work toward every day.”
Among the adoptions celebrated during the ceremony was that of 2-year-old Malayah, who became the newest member of the Brown family earlier this year. Malayah’s adoption is the first for Allen and Carla Brown, a Denver couple with two children, too.
“We have two biological children, but we always knew that we wanted to adopt one day as well,” Carla Brown said. “We had actually considered international adoption before, but then we realized how many children there were in our area that needed adoption. We took our (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) classes to get certified for adoption, and when we were going through that we really felt like we needed to foster as well, which was a scary thought for us with having two biological children already because we wanted to be cautious about what we opened them up to.”
Malayah, whose biological last name is actually the same as her new adoptive family’s surname, was one of six children fostered in the Brown household prior to her adoption. Malayah came to the Brown family when she was just eight weeks old, and her adoption was recently finalized shortly before her second birthday.
“It was such a relief when her adoption was finalized,” Carla Brown said. “A lot of times in cases social workers will tell you that anything can change up until the 59th minute of the 11th hour. You never know if a family member is going to come out of the woodwork or what’s going to happen, and so, as foster parents, you try to always keep your guard up and not let your hopes get too high. We were finally able to let that guard down when her adoption was finalized, and it was just a feeling of extreme joy because we were able to embrace what was happening without having to be apprehensive about what may change.”
Those interested in adoption are encouraged to contact the Lincoln County Department of Social Services. From there, the interested family will be required to complete the 10-week MAPP training course to become certified for adoption, and then a social worker will pay a visit to assess the interested family and their household.
“When you think about these children that come into foster care, they lose everything,” Bowles said. “They lose their parents, pets, home, neighborhood, school and so many other aspects of their lives, so it’s very important to us as social workers to keep as many of those things as stable for them as possible. We want to keep them in their home community so that we can keep them connected with their friends at school and keep them in a surrounding that they’re familiar with. That’s why it’s so important that we have foster and adoptive parents here in Lincoln County so that we can keep these kids where they’re comfortable.”