Stephanie and Jermaine Allen have four biological children and guardianship of a nephew who has autism. But when SaintA contacted them about three young children who had been severely abused and left at a library by their biological mother, they willingly opened their home.
The Allens became foster parents when their nephew Corey, who now is 4, went into out-of home care at 9 months old, and they had cared for other siblings who were reunited with family. Jermaine’s mother had been a foster parent since he was young, and there were always kids in and out of his home. So, bringing in these children just seemed like the right thing to do.
It turned out to be so right that the Allens recently adopted the three kids, Jeramaiah, 10; Beauty, 9, and Charmeeka, 7. That made them a family of 10, with Corey and the biological children: Dominique, 17; Desirae, 12; Danielle, 8, and Darielle, 1. Plus a new puppy named Dash.
“The major question we get is, ‘How do you do it?’” Jermaine said.
“We just do it; it just works,” Stephanie added with a laugh. “We have a routine; it controls chaos.”
“And we have a tight schedule, and we have to take two vehicles everywhere,” Jermaine said. “But if you open up your home for these children, you are committed to making a better life for them.”
Faith in God also helps a lot, Jermaine said. “If we didn’t have faith, I don’t think we could do what we do.”
Commitment and consistency also are vital, Stephanie said, and being realistic.
“You could say you wish these kids were x, y, and z, but that’s just not possible all the time. You have to realize these kids have been through a lot and sometimes it will just take them a little more time.”
The three new additions have indeed been through a lot. Their stories include severe physical and sexual abuse. Only the youngest child was spared much of the worst.
Counseling started soon after the children arrived, and screaming, crying and serious, seemingly unprovoked, outbursts were the norm. Through the counseling, the Allens learned the details and extent of the children’s abuse.
“Yes, their story is horrifying,” Stephanie said. “But it was a matter of, how can we help them get better. We knew we just had to do what we could do, which is all we can do, right?”
Beauty was afraid of men. With Stephanie’s patient guidance, and loving connections with Jermaine, his father and Stephanie’s brothers, plus a male therapist, things have gotten much better.
Jeramaiah’s biological mother apparently had taught him to steal food, and when he was chosen to participate in an after-school room-cleaning project to earn extra money, he told the teacher he probably couldn’t because, “I steal and lie.” When the teacher and his parents expressed confidence in him, he went forward and did such a good job that he earned more than the original amount.
Not only were the children emotionally scarred, they were behind academically.
“We told the kids, we need you to understand that education is serious,” Stephanie said. “School’s not the place to do all these shenanigans.”
As part of their stress on education, especially reading, the Allens disallow TV one to two days each week and restrict the kids’ activity to reading. They purchased self-help books such as, “How to Deal with my Anger,” for Beauty and “How to not Act Like You’re a Cave Man” for Jeramaiah. It turned out that all the Allens’ children like to read, including to each other. And all of the kids are now at their proper grade level.
Things such as personal hygiene also proved to be a struggle with the new family additions, Stephanie said.
“Things we take for granted we had to teach them, like how to wash up in a sink, how to take a shower. Our birth children grew up learning this, but we had to teach them, taking baby steps.”
Although the instruction “was not always well-received,” the biological children pitched in. Stephanie once heard Desirae tell Beauty, who had refused to take showers, “We’re young ladies now, and we have to do this,”
In the beginning, things sometimes were pretty stressful for the parents.
“You pour so much into them, and sometimes it was rejected,” Stephanie said. “I admit there were times when I was ready to give up. But I did not. When you realize the goal at hand, you just keep pushing forward.
“My cause in getting into foster care was to make a difference in children’s lives, and every child deserves a chance. So we’re committed to make that happen.”
Lately, the only discord in the Allen home, Jermaine said, is typical sibling rivalry, such as Beauty getting upset and hitting her older sister. When that happens, he’ll put the children into one of his old, stretched-out shirts and make them stay together in the “buddy shirt” for the rest of the day.
“I tell them, ‘You’re going to be in this shirt until you show me you can work together, because if you have a problem, you have to learn to work together as a brother or sister.”
The shirt always works.
The Allens were not considering adoption when they first got the three new children, but when their parents’ biological rights were terminated Stephanie’s mother said, “If you see yourself doing this for a while, why not just adopt them?”
“I said, “You know what, you’re right!’ ”
The biological children told their parents, “They’re here anyway; why not?”
So, on March 13, everything was made final. The girls got their hair and nails done and everyone got new clothes. The three children also chose new names: David Jeramaiah Destiny Beauty and Dakota Charmeeka.
They had been calling the Allens Mom and Dad for some time, so that didn’t change. At first they would refer to them as their foster mom or foster dad, Stephanie said, then it just turned into Mom and Dad.
“They just needed someone they can depend on… They’re all just our kids, and it’s good to say those are my children.
“I would never say that things are perfect, but it works, and all the kids are happy. In the end, all they really want is someone to love them and take care of them. And I have more than enough love to go around.
“It’s been a good journey.”
The only real sadness Stephanie said she felt at the adoption was thinking that SaintA staff, who she said had helped the family tremendously through the last two and a half years, would no longer be in their lives.
Said case manager Kimberly Manuele: “We’re always only a phone call away.”
Interested in learning more about our foster care and adoption services? Visit growhope.net.