“A recruiter told me he was unadoptable. I hate that word.”
Courtesy The Dave Thomas Foundation Dee Marks was no stranger to adoption when she began the search for a daughter to adopt. Having already adopted her daughter, Marrena, Dee hoped to find another to add to their family. She began the search for a teenager, and was open to one with special needs. When a recruiter told her about a little boy that was considered “unadoptable,” Dee asked to hear more about him. “I still vividly remember that phone call. I listened to the recruiter but then mentioned that I was really looking for a girl with a cognitive disability, and wasn’t trained on how to raise a boy with autism,” Dee told Reader’s Digest. She adds, “I hated the word “unadoptable,” and told her to tell me more about this little boy. She told me that he was eight years old and had red hair. That’s what got me. I love red hair.” The little boy with red hair was considered to be difficult to find a home for due to his frequent and lengthy tantrums, and several other undesirable behaviors for a child his age. Dee explains, ” He had severe behaviors like throwing tantrums for long periods of time, throwing up to escape doing any schoolwork, screaming, and running away. He had not been taught how to play with toys, color, feed himself appropriately, or use the restroom—and he was eight years old.”
CJ had been in foster care for six years prior to meeting Dee, a period of life that had clearly been traumatic for the young boy. Dee explains, “Due to his inability to communicate when he moved in with me, I don’t have a verbal account of how horrible the experience was for him, but there were many indicators that foster care was so heartbreaking for my son.” She continues, “It was apparent within days that he had endured severe abuse. If anyone raised their voices or moved into his personal space unexpectedly, he would cover his head and move to the floor. As his new mom, it was so hard to witness.”
Over time, Dee’s hard work to communicate safety and trust to CJ began to succeed. She says, “It took time, but eventually CJ began to trust my daughter and me, and that we wouldn’t hurt him, no matter how severe his behaviors were. The first time he chose on his own to come sit with me on the couch, putting his legs right next to mine, was when I knew our bond was becoming stronger than his memories.”
CJ’s vast improvement since his adoption into Dee’s family is a testament to the great effort she put into providing him with stability. When he arrived in Dee’s home, CJ required around-the-clock care to ensure he was making progress with his development goals and safe, so Dee hired in-home support that was qualified to work with CJ and help him meet the goals set by his behavioral team. Dee believes the progress he has made can be attributed to two things. She explains, “First, the stability in my home was something that he had never experienced before. He began to see and understand that he was loved and, in spite of his behaviors, I wasn’t going to send him away. Second, during this same time period, we were able to help CJ understand visual icons for his wants and needs, which gave him the ability to communicate with us.”
Today, the red-haired little boy that would tantrum for hours is only a memory to Dee—and the pride she has for her son and the gains he’s made is apparent. She says of CJ today, “He’s 14 years old, talks all of the time, and attends classes with his typical peers at his middle school for 90 percent of the day. During the other 10 percent, CJ works with an intervention specialist on specific goals to help him advance his level of learning, like reading skills and math computation. He also plays percussion in the school band, performs in the annual school musical, runs on the track team, and is also a member of the cross-country team.”
Though the difference in her son since their first meeting is striking, she doesn’t want to mislead others to believe it’s been easy. Dee says, “I won’t lie and say that it’s easy. It isn’t. It takes dedication and a resolve to love, in spite of how hard it can be. You can’t fix a disability. Adopting a child who has special needs won’t “fix” them, but adoption gives them an opportunity to grow to their fullest potential.” She continues,” Being able to watch your child surpass the expectations of doctors, educators, and friends and family, all because you loved them and nourished their abilities, is an indescribable feeling.”
The hopes she holds for her son’s future are bright, and no longer unreachable. Dee says, “My hope is for CJ to be happy and to always feel loved. He’s had enough heartbreak in his young life. It’s time for him now to enjoy all that life has to offer.” She adds, ” One day, He will finish school and hold a job, live on his own with support, and be surrounded by family and friends. This isn’t a dream anymore, it’s a reality—because he’s got a family that stands beside him.” Here are the secrets that all happy families know.
“Raychelle would put her hands up—she was afraid of being hit”
Courtesy The Dave Thomas Foundation Terry and Laverne Jenkins met in the armed forces and knew they were meant to be together and join their families. At the time, Terry had two sons, and Laverne had one. Over the years they adopted two nieces due to a family tragedy, and went on to have a biological son and daughter together. They decided to become foster parents out of a desire to help other families succeed, and for the last 30 years they have done just that.
Raychelle was 15 when she first met the Jenkins. Scheduled to stay with the Jenkins for a short 72 hours, Laverne says Raychelle was placed in her home with only a black trash bag containing her belongings—which were severely lacking. “She came with clothing appropriate for an older man—not for a teenage girl. It looked as though someone’s grandfather had passed, and she was given his clothing. She had no toothbrush or pajamas—none of those things,” Laverne recalls.
It was apparent that Raychelle, born deaf, had been extremely neglected in her previous foster environments. “She hadn’t bathed in weeks, and the stench was awful. Her hair hadn’t been washed or braided, and she had bald spots from the lack of grooming. I couldn’t believe it,” Laverne told Reader’s Digest. Raychelle entered the foster care system due to neglect from her biological mother right before her sixth birthday, and had bounced from home to home throughout the years—some of which were abusive. “When Raychelle came to us she was extremely withdrawn and afraid of people. She would put her hands up because she was afraid of being hit, and her ability to communicate with others was almost nonexistent,” Laverne explains.
When a social worker told Laverne and Terry that after her weekend stay with them Raychelle would be placed in a group home, Laverne knew she had to take action. “I called the social worker I knew with Wendy’s Wonderful Kids and told her I wanted to petition for adoption immediately—there was no way a group home would be prepared to take care of Raychelle in the way she needed.” Once Raychelle was placed with the Jenkins, others began noticing changes in the teen as well. “The school social worker told me, ‘We knew she had to be in a new home, because she came to school clean,” Laverne recalls. “I told her, ‘You don’t have to worry about her anymore, she’s in the right home now,” she adds.
Laverne says that adopting Raychelle, who functions at a first grade level due to brain trauma she sustained during abuse, has been a motivation for growth in her own life. She says, “Adopting her was something that God put on my heart, and looking in her eyes I knew I was meant to be her forever mom. She’s made me a better person. I’m more empathetic and sympathetic to others. People think I’ve done great things for her, but she’s done them for me, too.”
Today, Raychelle is 20, and about to graduate high school. She only knew five American Sign Language words when arriving at the Jenkins home, and she now communicates well with over 400. Learn some fascinating facts about American Sign Language. Laverne says her daughter amazes her, and she’s learning sign language to communicate even better with Raychelle. “She’s learning to read and write, and she could barely write her name when we met. I believe she can go so much further,” she explains. Previously withdrawn and fearful, Laverne says Raychelle has grown to love others. She says, “Raychelle has more of a social life than I do, she goes to dances and recreation programs. I want her to be comfortable wherever she is, whether that’s with hearing people or non-hearing people. I want her to know her world is broad.”
Laverne wants others considering adoption of older children or those with special needs to know that any child in foster care has special needs. She explains,”Foster care children all have a special need for something. If you’re considering adoption or foster care, you should pray about it—we all have a mission in life, and if this is yours, then a higher power will provide for you.” She also encourages other adoptive parents to educate themselves about advocating for their child. “Go to the doctor and tell them what you think your child needs, get familiar with the IEP (individual education program) process, and advocate for them. If you don’t, no one else will. They can’t advocate for themselves,” she says.