Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Name is Teri Hess

A Personal Reflection by a Foster and Adoptive Mom

My name is Teri Hess and I have fostered 12 children and adopted seven through Arizona’s Children Association Foster Care Program. When I became a foster parent in 2003, I never expected that I would one day be the parent of eight children. I had one daughter, Tina, and had always wanted more children. As a single parent, adoption appeared to be a good option for me. Tina was at an age where I felt I had the time to give to a child.

Ashlee was placed with us in 2003. On my way to pick her up, I learned about her sister Mimi who was placed at a separate shelter. At ages 2½ and 1½, the sisters were separated and labeled as “violent.” I brought both girls home that day, and adopted them in November, 2005. While they have their sibling rivalries, I have never seen the “violent” behavior I was warned about.

Jillian was placed with me in June of 2004, seven days before her first birthday. She was returned to her mother in December of 2005, which was devastating to me, as I had hoped to adopt her as well. I was able to put my feelings into a letter to her mother, which lead to a positive relationship and we continued to keep in touch after Jillian returned home.

After Jillian left, Angelina was placed in my home. I was asked to adopt her and fully intended to do so. However, a year later, the case manager contacted me and informed me that Angelina was to be placed with a relative who had come forward. My family was once again crushed, but we went along with the case plan and Angelina went to her aunt’s home in August 2007. Four months later, the case manager called and asked if I would still like to adopt her. My answer was “YES!” and Angelina was adopted in March of 2008.

During this time, a three year old named Alexis was placed in my home. She was labeled as “withdrawn, antisocial, and unaffectionate.” Her two younger siblings were placed halfway across the valley. When I asked about the younger siblings, I was told that Lexi’s brother, Issac, had anger issues at age one. Her younger sister, Arianna, was less than a year old. I told my workers, “we have to get her siblings here.” In November 2006, Isaac and Arianna were brought to my home. I immediately saw a change in Lexi. It appeared as if she was finally able to relax, knowing her siblings were with her. What came next was a few years of court dates, and in November 2009, I adopted all three kids on National Adoption Day.

You would think this is where my story ends… but if you are keeping track, I have only talked about 6 of the 7 children I have adopted.

So here is what I call my “swan song” – in July 2007, Jillian was found in a parking lot in Payson. Her mom was struggling with mental health issues and was in a down cycle. The CPS case was transferred down to Phoenix, and since it had been over a year since Jillian had been returned home, reunification efforts were put into place again. At this time, Jillian was four years old and had spent half her lifetime in my home. As she watched her siblings get adopted, Jillian hoped that one day she, too, would be adopted into the family. Her wish came true in June 2010, when, at 6½ years old, she officially became Sierra Jillian Hess.

The past seven years have been a roller coaster of emotion for me. I have learned a lot about relationships and formed lifelong friendships. I am still in contact with many of my children’s “other mothers,” and we still talk about them to this day. We have nothing but positive thoughts towards them, and wish them the very best. Things happen for a reason, and while I was heartbroken each time a child left my home, I knew that there was another one who needed me at that time. There is always another child who needs you.

I have learned so many lessons along my journey. First of all, I have learned to not listen to the "labels" that are placed on children. What they really need is love and nurturing. I am so grateful that I took the time to form my own opinions about the children placed in my home. I have witnessed my only daughter grow from an awkward, rebellious teenager into an amazing big sister, then into a young woman, and now, a soon to be mother.

People often ask me how I manage as a single parent of seven young children. I tell them “I never wanted to adopt 7 kids, but God has a sense of humor. Some days are better than others, and other days are not as good as some.” My life revolves around my kids and I would not have it any other way.

As the Foster Care and Adoption chapter in my life closes, I know many of you are just beginning your journey. I wish you the very best and offer you this piece of advice: Follow your heart and do what is right for the kids – because you are their voice. Speak up and actively participate in every aspect of these children’s lives, because there is someone out there that can help, you just have to find them.

To learn more about foster care and adoption with Arizona's Children Association, visit www.arizonaschildren.org and click on "Permanency."