Health

Adopting Kids with Medical Needs: The Better Part of Sainthood

Needy children rely on the generous few out there — thank goodness these people exist

Elizabeth Demas, of Kansas City, Missouri, always knew she wanted to be a foster parent. After her own rough childhood, she felt that if more foster parents had been available, she and her siblings might have been removed from their traumatic home.

After fostering more than a dozen kids over several years and giving birth to three boys, she became a foster parent to a five-week-old girl who had been born to a mother addicted to methamphetamines.

Drug addiction accounts for up to 70 percent of all children in foster care.

The child, named Annabelle, had surgery at three days old, was diagnosed with Down syndrome, and had other medical problems. Demas received her from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at a local hospital as a foster child and later adopted her.

From babies born to drug-addicted moms to those abandoned because of their special needs, many young children don’t just need parents — they need someone who can go the extra mile for them and provide medical, emotional, and post-traumatic care.

More than 400,000 kids are in foster care in the U.S.; about 100,000 are available for adoption. Thirteen percent of these children are younger than two years old, according to California-based Seneca Family of Agencies. Drug addiction accounts for up to 70 percent of all children in foster care; that’s been increasing since 2013.

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“While many foster parents like to get babies, many shy away from ones with known drug exposure,” Demas explained. Annabelle’s mother was unable to care for her and severed her parental rights when Annabelle was one. The father had been deported back to Guatemala — and died from drug violence.

Demas later fostered Annabelle’s three half-siblings, who were removed from their mother for safety concerns. They now live with their father; the mother has since given birth to another meth-addicted baby. Annabelle survived through feeding problems, eye issues in her early months, hearing loss, a swallowing disorder, and seizures. She needed leg braces and glasses. She needed a helmet for her head. She is non-verbal but communicates via sign language.

Demas sells Avon products and says she could not have kept up with doctor and specialist appointments if she weren’t an entrepreneur with flexibility.

Older Kids Need Love and Guidance, Too
Dave and Cindy Jones (not their real names) of Salt Lake City, Utah, adopted two half-sisters two years ago; they were the foster parents first. The girls don’t speak much of their past and Dave Jones’ knowledge is limited to state agency reports.

What he knows haunts him — but what he doesn’t know is even harder to accept. “My children don’t want to talk about their past,” he said. “I’m sure what I know of their stories is just the tip of the iceberg.”

That blind spot is tough when trying to help the girls through emotional trauma. Born to destitute parents with drug addiction problems, the girls arrived at the Jones home at ages eight and two.

“When suddenly my daughter has a panic attack and I have no idea why — that’s when I’m helpless,” Jones explained. “It could be triggered by any number of things. Does she recognize a store [when in the car]? Did she just drop a toy on the floor and that triggered a memory? How can you protect your kids from memories when you don’t know what the memories are?”

Related: Foster System Flooded with Orphans of Addiction

Still, Dave and Cindy Jones remain undeterred after struggling with infertility. They recently took in a new foster daughter, a 17-year-old who has been in various homes for most of her life.

In Utah, some 10 percent of all kids available for foster care “age out” of the system when they become of legal age without having a stable foster-care environment. That doesn’t mean they don’t need the love and guidance of an adult. “It’s not uncommon for them to bounce around from one home to the next, if the situation doesn’t seem to be working out,” Jones explained. “But that’s just awful for a child’s emotional and mental health and stability.”

Key Quality for Adoptive Families
Jones believes many people could help children if they worried less about being a perfect parent. “I’m not a great adoptive parent. I make mistakes like everybody else. I’m a normal dad. Foster and adoptive parents aren’t saints. They’re normal people who are trying to make the world — a child’s world — a little better.”

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Demas is clear about the winner in her adoptive family. “I just know I won the lottery when I got Annabelle. She’s pure joy and brings me happiness on a daily basis.”

Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions. 

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