My Adoption Story: From Foster Child to Foster Care Professional
When people think about foster care and adoption, they tend to have a picture in their mind about what that might look like. But in most cases, there is often so much more to the narrative than they realize.
This is my story.
It starts long before I was born. My birth mother was born into a poor and divided family where alcohol addiction was prominent. Her upbringing was turbulent and difficult, with many moves among family members and no feelings of belonging. At 18, she met an Airman in the US AirForce and became pregnant with me. They married and tried to make it work, but after 3 years they eventually divorced and my mother became a single parent to me and my younger sister. She worked multiple jobs trying to make ends meet: waitressing, bartending, and dancing.
Life was stressful, and we were often unsupervised with me as the caretaker of my sister, providing food and safety for both of us. This was my life for approximately two years. Then, just after my fifth birthday, my mother decided she was no longer able to care for us. Our father refused to take us, and ultimately, we were placed in foster care with Gene and Charlotte Snyder.
We stayed with the Snyders for three months before they had to return us to our mother’s care. Approximately, three months later, when our mother was overwhelmed, she called them to help. My sister and I stayed with them again, this time for about six months before returning yet again. Through the experience, Gene and Charlotte built a relationship with my mother through visitation and phone calls. They knew that she loved us, but also knew that she was alone in the world and needed help too. This happened again for about three more months and when we returned this time, our mother had made the decision she was leaving Pennsylvania and moved back to her home in Alamogordo, New Mexico; she then met a man who bought her a house in Lubbock, Texas and we moved there. I attended school and stayed in 24-hour daycares with my sister, often spending the night, going to school, and returning there afterward for days on end. Life was very difficult there. My mother’s boyfriend did not like my sister and was physically abusive toward her. I continued to supervise and feed her when we had food to eat.
Eventually, my mother asked me if I wanted to go back to Gene and Charlotte. I told her that they said their heart couldn’t take us leaving anymore and they would not be able to take us back again if we left. (I had heard them say this on one occasion in the car when I was pretending to be asleep – a skill I learned to keep us safe)
The next thing I remember was her crying and asking me if I would call them and ask them to adopt my sister and me. She told me that it meant we would stay with them forever. I was almost 7 years old when she put me on the phone to make the call. I remember crying when I asked them, and they both start crying too. Within a few days, Charlotte and her father flew to Texas to pick up my sister and me.
Gene and Charlotte, Dad and Mom, worked privately with lawyers to move the adoption forward. We were officially adopted on March 2, 1982. That day, I wore a Cheryl Teiggs pink corduroy skirt and a flower button-up shirt; the details are still vivid to me.
Because of my role as a primary caretaker in my first family, I had to learn how to be a kid after being adopted. My sister no longer needed a mother and I needed to learn that I had people to care for me. This took a lot of love, patience, and support from my parents, but they offered it unconditionally, every moment of the day, every day. They worked hard to ensure we had very normal experiences. Both my family and my birth mother made efforts to answer our questions honestly and age-appropriately, even if it was for the 5,000th time. It was important for me to hear the story, to help me understand it, to learn the words to tell it, and to not own what was not mine to own.
My parents agreed to allow us to keep our first and middle names and supported us having contact with our mother via phone calls on holidays and birthdays. Sometimes she made the calls and sometimes she did not. They were supportive if we wanted to send cards, Christmas presents and even helped me make a recording of a song I learned to play on the piano for her.
Over time, we became so engaged in our family experiences within our home, school, community, and extended family that the grief began to dissipate when the calls did not happen. Our parents were always considerate of where we came from and were proud of our family, letting us know that we mattered and were good. Of course there were challenges and difficult times; I just never felt as though I was on my own after being adopted and knew that we would always get through it together…. and we have.
My mother worked as a director at a growth and development program for children with special needs and my father owned and operated Snyder’s Sanitation. Where my mother helped children, my father helped adults. If anyone needed work, he gave them a job. They included my sister and me in these discussions and I took these experiences to heart.
While I grew up thinking that being an elementary school teacher was my calling, I learned there were other ways to make a difference for children when I went to college, majoring in in Human Development and Family Studies with a focus on Child and Adolescent Development. Since then, I’ve worked to help others build connections, develop their voice, and to use their strengths to help them achieve their goals. This is what drives me to work at Adelphoi, where I serve as the Recruitment and Family Development Supervisor for Foster Care. Here, everyone has a story that matters, everyone has a voice and their strength is valued to bring about positive change, even when it is hard.
Today, I am married to my high school sweetheart Christopher. We have three children together, 2 sons Riley (20 years) and Kieran (17 years), and a daughter, Quinn (4 years old). My sister and I both experienced relief from unknown anxiety when our children passed the ages of when we were placed and adopted; to know that we had changed the family patterns that preceded us was a significant moment in both of our lives. My sister lives in Georgia, but no matter where she is, she is my best friend. My husband and I have stayed in the community where we grew up and have chosen to raise our family here, where they too have connections and a foundation.
My experience as an adult who was adopted as a child has had a significant impact on my life. I was raised with a family of people with significant resilience, compassion and capacity to do good even when things were hard. To understand that no matter what has happened, it is within my control to do good, to help others, and to not assume responsibility for the actions of others.
Working in foster care at Adelphoi allows me to help ensure families are prepared to support children who are going through difficult times that they may not understand for years to come. It is my mission to help people in the community look past the stigma of what they think a foster child looks like or the inconvenience of who they think birth families are. It truly takes all people to love and care for each other to show a child how to love and care back. Being a foster parent is a very important job for a child and they are the people who pave the way to see what is possible. I am blessed to have been adopted and to have had the opportunity to build connections; in fact, that is what I believe made all the difference.
Colin’s contagious smile and big heart will brighten anyone’s day. If you happen to find yourself driving through the McDonald’s in Latrobe, his kind words will greet you at the window. When he isn’t working, this 18-year old is often watching YouTube videos, or teaching his young nephew how to ride his bike. To see him now, you would assume he’s a happy, fulfilled recent high school graduate. But it wasn’t always this way.
In 6th grade, Colin started to get into trouble at school and was diagnosed with ADHD and Impulse Control Disorder. By the time he reached 8th grade, the school was calling his mom Leslie pretty regularly. As his behavior spiraled and the calls increased, she began to fear that he was going to get “lost” in the public school system.
Before the end of the first quarter of his 9th-grade year, Colin’s principal called her to have a meeting. During that meeting, his principal suggested that Colin attend Adelphoi Ketterer Charter School in Latrobe. While she agreed that she needed to do something to help Colin, she was hesitant to send him to a school that she knew little about.
“Life before the Charter School was very stressful and full of anxiety,” said Leslie. “Problems just kept arising and Colin was getting further and further away from where I knew he could be.”
Leslie reluctantly agreed to meet with teachers at the Charter School. During that meeting, Leslie says that they were greeted with “a smile and acceptance” from everyone that lasted long beyond the first meeting. Colin felt comfortable and accepted the first time he set foot in the school, not only from his teachers, but from all of the school personnel, including the counselors, receptionists, principals, CEO and the school resource officer.
Colin found that the staff took interest in his life beyond just school, and worked hard to forge a personal bond with him. One of Colin’s teachers, Eric Pavlik, was what Colin considered his “go to” for everything. “He has talked to me and helped calm me down so many times,” said Colin. “He talked through problems with me.”
Many others, such as Brooke Pierce, Principal at Adelphoi Ketterer Charter School, rallied behind him to help him succeed. “She has been there for me anytime I needed,” Colin noted. “I know that I am welcome to go to her and talk if I need to. She’s helped me even when I messed up.”
Colin says he feels at home at the Charter School. He credits his teachers for encouraging him and allowing him to realize his potential. He knows that he can go to each of them with any problems that he may have and they will help.
Leslie says that that everyone at the Charter School “has Colin’s back” and they give him the encouragement and support that he needs to be successful. “Even when Colin makes a bad decision, the staff don’t make him feel like a bad kid, they just help him understand why it was a bad decision and help him to move forward.”
According to Leslie, the personal care and attention that Colin has received is outstanding. “We have never felt like just a number at Adelphoi Ketterer Charter. Anytime that I have concerns or questions, the staff have responded and provided the human contact and care that I have come to know, expect and love from them.”
“When I drop Colin off every morning, Resource Officer Ray always reminds him to tell me that he loves me,” says Lesie. “He asks Colin how he is, and if Colin misses a day of school, the next morning Ray says, ‘I was worried about you, you doing ok?’ There have been many mornings after Colin walks into the school that Ray will take the time to talk to me. He tells me what a good kid Colin is and that he will check in with him and see how he’s doing.”
Today, Colin talks positively about his future with his school counselor and plans to use the Adelphoi Promise scholarship program to pursue education after high school.
“Colin is a smart a young man, he was a lost soul with some emotional baggage that needed the support of people that understood and cared and that is exactly what he got at this school,” said Leslie. “Adelphoi Ketterer Charter School gave us hope again, restored my faith in public education, in teachers and humanity. I wouldn’t want my son anywhere else.”
Before Adelphoi, Bob didn’t have many healthy relationships with friends and family. He would often hang out with friends that were a negative influence on him. His life consisted of trying to push the limits of what he thought was wrong and what was actually wrong. Bob needed structure and guidance from Adelphoi to bring him to terms with reality with the decisions he was making.
Adelphoi also showed Bob that there were people that understood what he was going through and wanted to offer guidance to help him make better choices that would lead to a more productive and healthy lifestyle.“Adelphoi gave me opportunities of leadership, accountability and responsibility. Through situations such as being a home manager for a week, keeping myself accountable for negative behavior, tasks such has schoolwork and treatment work, I had things to focus on, which in the long run, carried over into my daily routine 10 years later. From these opportunities, I often seek leadership positions instead of being a follower, I am more self-accountable and pride myself with integrity through work and personal life. I find taking responsibility easier knowing that I have the willpower to follow through and the determination to get tasks and jobs finished.”
After Adelphoi, Bob jumped right back into high school as a 16-year-old freshman. He completed high school on time and pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Commercial Music Technology from California University of Pennsylvania.“After I received my undergraduate degree, I went back to California University of Pennsylvania to pursue a master’s degree in business administration. After 2 more years of school and through the help of the Adelphoi’s scholarship programs, I was able to pay for and complete the required curriculum in order to receive my MBA in 2018.” “The programs and services at Adelphoi that I received made a difference in my life because I am now fully aware of my life and my actions. I can easily identify things like seemingly unimportant decisions and high-risk situations that I couldn’t recognize before Adelphoi. From the programs at Adelphoi, I’ve learned about understanding my behavior cycles and how to identify my problem areas. I have also learned about urge control and empathy. These two things have impacted my life the most because I use them every day. Having the self-control to stay away from temptations and releasable behaviors as well as recognizing and having empathy for the people that I hurt or could have hurt keep me more self-aware and help me to live a healthy and responsibly life.”
Today, Bob’s life is completely different from his days before Adelphoi. He currently has a successful sales position with a plastics supply company.“This year has been my 10th year since completing treatment at Adelphoi. Almost every day I find myself doing or thinking about the lessons that I’ve learned from this program. Adelphoi has taught me that all of my actions will never only affect myself. The way I handle every life choice for the rest of my life will affect my family and the people around me.”
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) program is an intensive family- and community-based treatment program designed to make positive changes in the home, school and community for youth who are displaying antisocial behaviors. For 13-year-old "Amy," these behaviors included becoming physically and verbally aggressive, stealing and leaving home without permission.
Amy’s mother "Dawn" worried about her daughter’s behaviors, fearing that she would never reach the promising potential she saw in her. As a result, Dawn's mother turned to Adelphoi MST for help.
Early in the family’s treatment, the MST team realized how crucial it was for Amy and her mother to improve their communication as well as learn how to model the de-escalation skills that she desperately wanted Amy to use in handling her anger more effectively. Numerous steps were also put into place to assist with communication styles from both mother and daughter on a daily basis. These interventions helped Dawn to see the value of an authoritative parenting approach that encompassed both control and warmth.
To help Dawn construct appropriate expectations, the MST team provided education on normal adolescent development in tandem with teaching Dawn about how to “pick and choose” her battles. Adelphoi MST also assisted her with developing clear expectations with added incentives to help strengthen her discipline techniques. This way, Amy had clear rules in place with either a reward or consequence, based upon the behavior she chose to exhibit.
MST also focuses on enacting change within the child's entire ecological support system. In order to sustain the support Dawn had received from Adelphoi MST, the team enlisted Dawn's boyfriend "Jeremiah" as a support to help her to continue to use the skills that she had learned throughout treatment. Jeremiah was able to stay calm amidst tense circumstances, which was incredibly helpful in managing Amy’s behavior and more importantly, the changes that had greatly improved the mother-daughter relationship.
Through completion of the MST program, the entire family learned how to decrease aggressive communication and find ways to really hear one another, which strengthened their relationships with one another. In turn, they were able to share their concerns without being critical and could focus the conversation on problem-solving rather than arguments.
After working with Adelphoi MST, Amy found a renewed sense of being loved and taken care of while simultaneously understanding that because she was loved, she would be held accountable to certain standards of behavior. At the close of treatment, Amy was most proud of her ability to demonstrate self-control, successfully meeting each of her overarching goals, while her mom was confident that she had the skills to be a better parent.
Adelphoi foster parent Sandra Barnaby has watched many children move in and out of her life over the years. A foster parent for more than 30 years, many of these children, now adults, still call the Barnaby household “home” and refer to Sandra as “Mom.” Over time, Sandra has been able to watch some of those children have their own children, get married, or visit her to show their appreciation for her love and support over the years.
Foster parenting wasn’t something Sandra embarked on early in life. No stranger to hard work, Sandra worked outside of the home to give her family all that she could. Her employment and active involvement in the church never interfered with her role as a full-time, hands-on parent.
In 1988, everything changed when Sandra and her husband Steve made the decision to become foster parents. As if it were second nature, the Barnaby’s approached each child with a compassionate heart and the philosophy that each child deserves their unconditional love, no matter what occurred in the child’s past.
Years later, after the passing of her husband, Sandra continued to foster, giving all that she had to ensure that others did not go without.
Sandra credits much of her success with children to the great support system within her family, church community, and Adelphoi staff. When she takes on the care of any child, they are adopted by her entire family. Every child that has been lucky enough to have found a home with the Barnaby’s has come to them the same way, weary from life lessons learned all too soon. Over time, Sandra’s love and devotion catalyzes a change in these children. The youth in her care slowly start to trust again and gradually let down the walls that have protected them for so many years.
Over the past six years, Sandra has continued to offer even more permanence for kids in need, seeking and obtaining guardianship of three teenagers who are now currently in their twenties and hve families of their own. She also fostered a young man that lost his mother to her battle of cancer. After only a few months of fostering, Sandra made the decision to give this young man a “forever home,” and secured guardianship of him as well.
Because of her dedication and to so many children, Sandra was named 2019 Permanency Family of the Year by the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network. She was honored at a banquet on June 13, 2019 at the Kalahari Resorts in the Poconos.
Sandra has given more than 125 children with broken dreams a chance to dream once again. At 74 years old, Sandra notes, “Fostering children keeps me young. I don’t know where I would be without them.”
Adelphoi provides a continuum of quality services to children, youth, and families from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Delaware. Headquartered in Latrobe, PA, our 650 staff provide help and hope to over 2,000 youth and families each year.