My partner, Crystal, and I were drawn to foster care due to the mere fact we both have always worked, in some form or fashion, with children who had less than healthy home lives. We both love seeing positive changes in kids when they do get stability, structure, and love.
Crystal and I reached a point in our relationship when we were ready to start a family. We both, 100 percent without a doubt, knew we could give any child in our home the love and resources they would need to become productive members of society.
Things moved quickly. Within a week of being licensed to become foster parents, we said yes to an opportunity for fostering a 4-month-old who suffered from severe head trauma. Meanwhile, we had Alex -- a teenage student at the school where I taught. And at that same time, we had submitted paperwork for parenting a little boy named Westin, who was really the main reason we became a certified foster-to-adopt home. When we saw the profile of cute Westin, who had been on the waiting list for three years and nobody was interested in adopting, we called the next day to ask, "What do we need to do to get Westin permanently in our home?"
The woman we spoke to informed us that we needed to be licensed and told us it would take six months. We told the woman, "You don't know us." We went to parenting classes every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for a month and a half straight. As part of the home study, we had every criminal background check imaginable run on us, along with having the health inspector and fire marshal come into our home to make sure it was child-ready. We both had to get clearance from our doctors stating that we were physically and mentally capable of fostering children. So we became certified and licensed after a busy eight weeks, with the help of Texas Mentor, a child placement agency here in Austin. We feared agencies wouldn't want to certify us because we're a same-sex couple, but Texas Mentor welcomed us with open arms.
In January 2012, Child Protective Services picked us to be Westin's forever parents. We were ecstatic. In February we made the drive to Dallas to meet Westin for our first visit and fell even more in love with this little guy. Westin moved in at the end of February after we had done another weekend visit with him. In June of 2012 the judge approved an early adoption.
And as for the dear baby, we nursed him back to the level he was supposed to be on, physically and cognitively, but he ended up going back to his family. After having him with us for nine months, our hearts were crushed.
Just two weeks after we said goodbye to the baby, CPS called Crystal and asked if we were interested in adopting Lexi, who we had met on one of those weekend visits, and who had just sat right down in Crystal's lap. She told the caseworker, "Absolutely." Then a month after the baby went back, the same caseworker called and asked if we would be interested in Jase, an 11-month-old who was ready for adoption. Without hesitation, we said yes.
On November 1, 2012, we finalized an adult adoption with Alex at age 18. The home visits for Lexi and Jase were being done, and on December 8, 2012, Lexi came to live with us, and Jase on December 22, 2012; we adopted Jase in August of 2013 and Lexi in October of 2013. We, as you can imagine, have our hands full, and our hearts are more than content.
We feel strongly about helping anyone in need. There are so many children in the foster care system -- nearly 400,000. These children should have the same opportunities our parents gave us growing up. Every little one should have the opportunity to be a child and experience what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. Children want and need love. We can provide that, not only for the children who are in our home, but for any child who comes across our path. These are just a few of the reasons we chose foster care.
Westin is a child with a disability, but he's taught us more about ourselves and true happiness than we ever imagined. To think this child, because he had some conditions out of his control, was sitting on a waiting list for three years, boggles our minds. Everyone who comes into contact with him loves him, and he always has a smile on his face. They told us he will never read or be able to go to school, but Westin is able to count and knows all his colors, shapes, and animals.
Meanwhile, Alex had to wait until he was an adult to find the stability he had been longing for. Alex graduated high school six months early and was chosen to be the speaker at his graduation. As for Jase, he was only 13 months old when he came to his forever home. He was fortunate to have the foster parents he had prior to us. They loved him and took great care of him, but for circumstances beyond their control, were unable to adopt him. This active 3-year-old is smart, funny, and very athletic. Lexi is going to run her own business one day, or be a schoolteacher or principal. She is so determined to tell people what to do but then help them complete the task.
We cannot imagine starting a family any other way than by helping children already here -- but who need a helping hand to get them where they can be one day.
KELLY WELLS is an assistant principal with 15 years of experience in education. She is currently working on a Ph.D in educational leadership and plans to complete her dissertation on the graduation rates of foster children in central Texas by December of this year.