If any validation is needed that Barbara Brown’s home is the right place for her two teenage grandsons, consider this: the 15-year-old says he thinks the rules she sets are “great.”
“She’ll take things away if we do something wrong, and that’s a lesson we should learn. If we know right from wrong in the future, it’ll keep us out of trouble.”
Not the usual remarks you’d expect from a kid in those turbulent teenage years! But Ms. Brown, who is 61, says that, although there have been a few “bumps in the road,” adopting Atreue, 15, and Imani, 14, was the best thing in the world for everyone involved. The boys had been in foster care since 2005, and now they are in a loving permanent home, with family.
SaintA Lead Case Manager Rachael Dieringer got involved in 2009, after which the mother’s parental rights for the boys had been terminated. The mom also has a teenage daughter and a 6-year-old son living with her and another son who was adopted by his paternal aunt.
“The family has undergone drastic changes since the boys were removed when they were little,” Rachael said. “All they ever wanted was to be connected to their family, and their behavior now is so much better.”
Over time, the boys’ mother has made progress turning her life around so she can remain involved in their lives. With the adoption, Imani and Atreue can maintain contact with their mother and all their siblings.
The road to this stable situation had its twists and turns. The boys were placed in out-of-home care because of some drug and violence issues in the home. After several years in foster care, a foster mother was interested in adopting them, but for various reasons, she couldn’t. A mentor the boys knew through a camp they attended for five years said she might be willing to adopt, but after three months, she gave up on them, Rachael said.
“So, I reached out to their grandmother. I thought, ‘She’s family; she won’t throw in the towel!’ “
“When she called me, I said, ‘Great!’” Ms. Brown said. She first had to become licensed as a foster parent, and although the process was a bit detailed, she said, “I didn’t care because it was going to bring my grandsons home. Whatever they wanted, I was going to do.
“More classes? Fine! I just came in with my little list of questions, and I got all the information I needed,” Ms. Brown said. Because her daughter’s rights to the boys had been terminated, the mom had to move out of the home she had shared with her mother. That was difficult, Ms. Brown said, because she has limited use of one leg after a serious fall several years ago and needs a walker to move around. But the split was undertaken because of Ms. Brown’s determination to get custody of the boys.
She said SaintA’s licensing worker walked her through everything she needed to become their foster parent, was wonderful to work with, and that everything turned out just as she had hoped it would.
Through SaintA and Wraparound, the boys got therapy and other services. Then Ms. Brown realized she was going to need something more: dressers, more beds, etc. “So I put out an SOS to my church, and, boy did they come through!”
After six months of fostering, on April 19, she adopted her grandsons. They were able to move recently into “grand-family apartments,” which cater to grandparents raising children. The place has three bedrooms, two baths, a social worker on site, and it offers home help and field trips. The boys were able to stay in the schools they were in.
Ms. Brown joyously recounts the day the adoption went through and how everyone – including Rachael — went out to eat afterward to celebrate and just let everything sink in.
“I told them (about having to live someplace else), never, ever again, and they gave me this look like, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Wipe that look off your face! You’re not going anywhere!’ “
But she gets very serious when explaining why this adoption was so important to her. A niece had lost custody of her children, and Ms. Brown didn’t want that to happen again. After talking awhile, she adds that she and a sister were brought up in foster care. They lived in several different homes and both suffered physical and sexual abuse. They know the names of their parents, that they have a third sister “somewhere out there,” but nothing more.
“This is another reason why I wanted to hang onto my boys.”
Imani said although his foster mother was nice, living there was hard because he really missed his family. “If we did an activity with my family, and then I had to go back to the foster home, when I’d leave, I’d get all depressed.”
Atreue said transitioning to different places and not having a lot of information was hard, but that things are “going excellent” living with his grandmother.
“It’s fun. She does a lot of things with us on weekends, like going to the movies or a mall.”
And Ms. Brown says that when the boys’ former foster mother calls and wants them to do things with her current foster children, she’s all for it.
“If not, it would be like taking her kids away from her. She knows every little thing about them … and I think she did a good job. They’re very well mannered, well spoken, and they can speak for themselves.”
Ms. Brown says that, in addition to the love she gets from her grandsons, there are other advantages.
“They keep me up to date on cars, sports, music. They kinda keep me young! The oldest one likes to cook, and Imani can clean like a tornado. He cleans like a grown-up! The first time he ironed his shirts with spray starch, I said, ‘Oh, my goodness!’
“Yeah, we got un-stuck. We were stuck for quite awhile. But we’re not stuck anymore!”