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A ‘Cinderella’ Adoption Story: May Is National Foster Care Month
By Sheila Begay
Au-Authm Action News

Each May, Foster Care Month is celebrated nationally and here within the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. This provides an opportunity for the Community to learn about the SRPMIC Foster Care Program. The Community program aims to raise awareness about foster care and encourages everyone to get involved in the lives of our youth. Being involved doesn’t only mean becoming foster parents; it could also mean volunteering, becoming a mentor, working with employers or helping in many other ways.

“Foster Care Month is about bringing awareness to the Community. We are always looking for either Community families or Native American families to step forward to become licensed [as foster care families]. A wonderful thing that was approved this month was that we are now able to work with and license all SRPMIC employees and Salt River Education Department employees (Native and non-Native),” said Avarae John, SRPMIC senior social worker/case management.

“We’ve been steady with about 10 foster families,” said John. “We have more than 10 children in care. We have hundreds of children, so we need a lot more foster families. We wanted to open up our pool of applicants, and we believe that the tribal employees understand our Community, its population and the needs, the cultural aspects, and [the importance of] bringing the kids back to the Community.” Approximately seven years ago, the SRPMIC Foster Care Program did not have any foster families. Over time, the program would get a maximum of two families a year, then it grew to six families a year. Last year, the program numbers doubled—it licensed 12 foster families.

The SRPMIC also has an Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Unit that is housed within the Family Advocacy Department. It too plays a role in helping American Indian families adopt American Indian children.

ICWA is a federal law that aims to keep American Indian and Alaska Native children involved in child-custody matters placed with American Indian and Alaska Native families. If a child is enrolled or is eligible to enroll with a federally recognized American Indian tribe, the child’s family or tribe may utilize ICWA to its full advantage regarding decisions on various services and placement of the child.

According to the SRPMIC Foster Care Program, some benefits of becoming a foster parent are: * Building compassion * Breaking the cycle of hurt * Celebrating diversity * Undying appreciation * Growing your family * Make an impact on a life * Creating safety for a child who has suffered abuse and neglect Teaching your own children the value of empathy and giving back to those who are in need Foster Care Month also provides an opportunity to acknowledge the awesome foster families and other caring individuals and organizations supporting our youth. If you know a foster parent or a relative caring for a child, be sure to thank them!

“I have some amazing families. I’m so proud of them and the work that they do. I’m so proud that they have stepped up,” said John about the foster families who have taken in Community and American Indian children.

The SRPMIC Social Services Department will be hosting a Noon Walk (12 p.m.) in support of National Foster Care Month on Tuesday, May 24, at Friendship Park. Small snacks and a T-shirt will be given to the first 100 participants.

For questions, contact SRPMIC Senior Social Worker/Case Management Avarae John at (480) 362-5645.

Here is the story of one family who opened up their home and hearts to an American Indian foster child. With the help of becoming certified through SRPMIC and being ICWA compliant, this American Indian family shared their story of adoption in hopes of encouraging other individuals and families to consider fostering or adopting a child.

Nearly a year ago, Rebecca and her husband Daniel adopted a six-month-old baby girl named Madison*. After nearly five years of attempting to conceive, the odds of having their own child just seemed to vanish for this couple, who wanted so desperately to have a child.

The couple went through a different tribal foster care program and everything seemed to end in disappointment. False hope is what this couple received the majority of the time.

“It was not a good experience. The experience was terrifying. It was false hope that was given to us about a child. It was just too emotional. After being certified, we decided to relinquish because there were just way too many emotions involved,” said Rebecca. After nearly giving up, Rebecca ran into a friend who encouraged her to go through the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Social Services Department to become certified foster parents for an American Indian child.

“The staff normalized it for me. They let me know there was going to be a lot of hand-holding at the beginning. They were supportive in this process; they would communicate anything that needed to be communicated and they ensured that we weren’t given a case that didn’t meet our family needs,” said Rebecca. “I spoke with my husband about moving forward, and he said, ‘This will be the last one; let’s do it.’ [Becoming a certified foster family is] a very lengthy process, but here [in SRPMIC] it was a great and quick process. They walked us through everything.”

The family communicated their needs to the Social Services Department and went through a background check, an interview and home studies in order to be able to be certified through SRPMIC and to be able to take a child into their home. After nearly six weeks, the family got the news they had been waiting for: they were approved.

“During this whole process, SRPMIC was great because—I don’t know if there’s other people like me—I’m very emotional in the sense that I wanted a child. It wasn’t that I just wanted to foster, we wanted a permanent child who we could care for and parent. We were unsure still, but then we were informed that a six-month-old baby was identified,” said Rebecca.

As you can imagine, Rebecca and her husband were both very excited to hear such great news. But they were also very scared. At this point, anything could happen again, and this too could end in false hope, something they were used to.

“The social worker who was handling that case made it a warm handoff for us. A staff member from SRPMIC made contact with her and went over all our family needs, so the social worker was prepped. The social worker had all our information and assured us that they wouldn’t give us the runaround and that this was a child who was going to move forward with adoption,” said Rebecca.

Thereafter, the social worker made all the necessary contacts and scheduled visitation for Rebecca and Daniel to finally meet little Madison. The same week they were approved, they were able to meet Madison.

“She’s so amazing. It was neat because the moment we met her, she just melted into my husband’s arms. She fell in love with him and it just felt right. It was so meant to be,” added Rebecca.

Visitation from a couple hours to a day pass was a huge step for the couple. This soon grew to an overnight visitation in the time span of two weeks. That next Friday, Rebecca and Daniel stepped before a judge, who permanently placed Madison in their custody. Placement happened within three weeks after being approved, which is almost unheard of.

“I felt that SRPMIC really communicated and answered what our family needs were; that piece was critical for me and my husband in moving forward. They really identified a kiddo that would fit into our home. It couldn’t have been more perfect,” said Rebecca. “My experience here in SRPMIC was amazing. The staff would check up on me and they would call it ‘the Cinderella story’ because my husband and I wanted children so bad, but we just could not conceive. We eventually want to adopt another child [in a couple more years].”

The staff was also gracious enough to provide the family with a goody bag, a $50 gift card to Olive Garden for a family dinner, and a thank-you note for adopting an American Indian foster child.

After nearly a year, the family is still celebrating their new addition and family members of the couple have been supportive and loving to the entire family.

“I cried, my husband cried. Oh my gosh, I can’t even describe it. It was powerful. She’s ours and nobody could take her,” said an emotional Rebecca. “She’s a character. She loves to have fun and she just has a vibrant spirit. Everyone loves her. We love her. She’s perfect.

“I’ve always wanted to be a mom, and to me the experience is just a positive experience. It happened when it was supposed to happen.” * Note: Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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A ‘Cinderella’ Adoption Story: May Is National Foster Care Month