Southern Nevada advocates speak on the importance of adoption and fostering
November is National Adoption Month. In Nevada, there are several advocates who want to remind people there are children in need of adoptive and foster homes. And they've dedicated their lives to helping them.
Dawn Hathaway Thoman represents some of those children as they navigate the legal system. She's a volunteer for CAP, or Children's Attorneys Project with Legal Aid of Southern Nevada.
"What we do for those kids is we give them a voice. We explain what their wishes are to the court and to all other parties," Thoman told host Joe Schoenmann on KNPR's State of Nevada. "And sometimes, it's not what the judge and other parties expect."
Thoman works with her young clients to determine the best fit for them, whether that's living with an extended family member, returning home to a parent, or finding a new foster or adoptive home. Some of her clients are non-verbal or too young to vocalize their opinions, so she spends time with them to learn more about their situations.
Thoman remembers her first case involving a baby.
"I thought, 'How am I going to know what this child wants?' But I would go and I would feed the child, I would spend time with the child in the foster home. The foster parents in that case wanted to adopt my client. And I could see how attached they were, I could see how bonded the baby was to his caregiver. I could see that anytime she left the room, his eyes followed her and he was anxious until she came back in the room. And that to me showed a lot."
It takes a community to step in and help these children.
"I would just strongly urge consideration of becoming a foster parent or even a respite care worker. That is someone who takes a child or a few children for an hour or two once in awhile to take some of the pressure off and give some time to the foster parents out there," Thoman said.
"It's really important that we have homes that can be open to these kids, for short term as a few hours all the way up to becoming an adoptive resource."
Another group working with children looking for foster or adoptive parents is the nonprofit Raise the Future.
The organization provides resources and trainings for people looking to open their homes to these children. It also looks to find potential homes within a child's extended family or established network. This is the work Jasmine Lee does as a Youth Connections advocate.
"It can be your neighbor, it can be a teacher, it can be the parents of a best friend," Lee said about the potential leads within a child's community. "They're not just separated from their family, they're separated from their work, their network of support. And if you really think about a network of support, that can consist of just about anybody, your church family, your school family, the people who you decide are your family are the people who our kids, unfortunately, are disconnected from when they come into the foster system.
And if an extended family member or close friend isn't ready in the moment to take in a child, Youth Connections Advocates are there to assist them in what they need.
"What is the true barrier that you're experiencing? And how can we as Raise the Future step in and support you," Lee said. "We stay connected with those people as best as we can. We believe in coming back around, because things change for people. Whereas on Monday you may not be ready, on Tuesday, who knows, you might be in a better place."
Lee said one of the biggest misconceptions she sees with people considering adoption is the amount of time someone expects to be a parent, especially when welcoming an older child in their home.
"Parenting doesn't stop at 18. You get a lifetime to really pour into and change a child's life. I think another misconception is that all our kids need is love. Our kids absolutely need love, but they have experienced a lot of trauma. And as a parent, you've got to be willing to stick it out and navigate that with them so there can be success for the family as a whole."
Two people who recently made that lifelong commitment are Damian and Gina Costa. The two started off as foster parents, in hopes of giving back to the community. It's something Gina feels passionate about.
"I want to become an advocate for fostering because there's such a huge need. There's so many children out there that need a safe place to go to. People have been coming up to us saying that they've always wished that they became or want to become foster parents. And so we're just trying to support those people and saying, 'Do it, it's an amazing, amazing journey.'"
The Costas addressed concerns people may have about adopting or fostering a child they don't know a lot about yet at first.
"Everyone has their journey in life. And many of these kids, none of these kids got to choose that," Damian said. "The advice I give to people is, that's not really our judgment, right? We have the ability to care for somebody regardless of their age."
"It's important that what we do is we actually view everybody as needing our support, needing our guidance as caregivers, and we can't be afraid of the unknown, we kind of have to take on what's delivered to us."
The Costas have adopted three children. They said they've received support from adoption groups, other parents going through adoption and fostering, and they find strength in their faith.
"We treat them with the love and respect that all human beings deserve," Gina said about the children who have come into her home and life. "Everyone was welcomed with open arms for as long as a week that they were here or longer."
Damian said there may be people who are ready to help, and might not know it yet.
"I think when you can look at a young person and say, 'Wow, they need help' or a family that may just be going through a tough time and say, 'Well, they just need my hand.' And I've got a moment, even if it's just an hour for respite, even if it's making a phone call to somebody who just needs a positive outlook."
"When you're ready to do that, or are ready to help another person, then I think that you're ready to consider the process."
Guests: Jasmine Lee, youth connections advocate, Raise the Future; Damian and Gina Costa, adoptive parents; Dawn Hathaway Thoman; attorney, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada