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Foster kids 'adopt' stuffed animals

A group of kids hoping to be adopted got to make stuffed animals and then “adopt” them with the help of a local judge and child welfare caseworkers.

The adoption ceremony was the culmination of a recent series of classes in Jackson County aimed at helping abused and neglected kids understand the adoption process.

“Foster parents receive a lot of training. But there rarely are training opportunities for kids. There are no forums for foster children and kids on an adoption track to meet other children in the same circumstance,” said Tracy Lindorf, child welfare supervisor for the Oregon Department of Human Services office in Medford.

Child welfare workers in Medford volunteered extra hours, donated money and got community support for the classes. They modeled the program after a similar effort that’s been going on in Coos County since 1996. Kids met once a week for six weeks.

They visited a Jackson County Circuit Court courtroom where adoption cases are heard, sat in a judge’s chair and banged a gavel.

For the last class, Judge Kelly Ravassipour led a ceremony in which the kids promised to take care of their Build-A-Bear stuffed animals, which ranged from bears to bunnies to Spider-Man dolls.

“The final night she came and made a really big deal about the adoption,” Lindorf said. “She signed adoption certificates when they adopted their bear.”

A foster mom who asked that her name not be used said the class helped the two girls, ages 4 and 7, she and her husband hope to adopt. They’ve had the sisters for almost two years.

The lengthy process of being moved into foster care, bonding with her foster parents and then waiting for clearance to be adopted has been especially hard on the older girl.

“Her personality and temperament is, ‘I need to know concrete answers,’” the foster mom said.

For both girls, hugging and dressing the bear and bunny they each made provides comfort.

“Having that physical item really resonated for them — like this is going to happen to them, too,” the foster mom said.

Back when the girls were 2 and 5, they were removed from their unsafe home and placed with their foster parents. The transition was easy for the toddler.

“She doesn’t have memories of her past the way her sister does. When she came to our house, she bonded immediately. There was an instant connection with me and my husband,” the foster mom said. “But for our oldest, she felt very torn and very loyal to her biological parents in the beginning. She would ask, ‘When am I going home? When will I live with my parents?’”

After a few months, the older girl settled in and developed trust for her foster parents. A weight seemed to lift off her shoulders.

“When she started feeling safety and trust and she relaxed, she started being more kid-like. She wasn’t worrying about so many adult things,” the foster mom said.

Oregon prioritizes reunification with biological parents if they can turn their lives around. If not, the state looks for relatives or foster parents willing to care for abused and neglected children.

For a child to be put on the adoption track, biological parents must either relinquish their parental rights or have them terminated through a court process.

The two sisters’ biological mom voluntarily relinquished her parental rights. She is maintaining an open relationship with the girls and their foster parents through visitation, the foster mom said.

The girls’ extended biological family also is involved in their lives, she said.

The biological father, who also visits the girls, has appealed a court decision to move them to an adoption track. The next court hearing on the case is scheduled in the coming year, the foster mom said.

“It’s very unnerving because you love them as your own,” she said. “You hope they will be yours forever. For me and my husband, it requires a lot of faith and believing in God and recognizing we’re not in control. There are policies and procedures in place to protect the girls and their parents.”

The recent classes for kids didn’t shy away from the tangled interrelationships between foster and biological families.

Kids made scrapbooks of all the people who love them, including biological and foster family members, DHS caseworkers and Court Appointed Special Advocates who research their cases and advocate for their best interests in court.

They filled bottles with layers of sand, each representing a person who loves them. They left room at the top to represent there is always an opportunity to have more loving people added to their lives.

“The girls loved being able to think about all the people in their lives who love them and they love,” the foster mom said.

The kids talked about how adoption can bring up a range of emotions, said Lindorf.

“It’s OK to have lots of different feeling about adoption,” she said. “Sometimes there’s sadness. Sometimes there’s excitement. It’s OK to talk about those feelings with their caregiver or their caseworker. It’s really important in any transition for a child to know they can talk about the different families that they have.”

Lindorf said the Medford DHS office plans to hold more classes for kids in the coming year.

The foster mom said she’s very grateful to local DHS workers who pitched in to make the classes possible.

“Their workload is so heavy and full. They all gave their time to be with these kids, give them one-on-one support and make it exciting and fun for them,” she said. “I hope they’re able to continue doing the class for more kids in the community. Many children are on the adoption track, and I think it can benefit so many kids.”

The foster mom said the 7-year-old girl has been telling her friends at school she is going to get adopted. For both girls, taking the class and adopting their stuffed animals has demystified a process that can be confusing and frightening for kids.

“It gave them peace about this big unknown,” the foster mom said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneTwo girls waiting to be adopted hold a bear and rabbit they ‘adopted’ during a recent class that demystifies the adoption process for kids.