After nine years of marriage, Lynne Class and her husband, Santiago, decided they wanted to adopt. Many people told them they were crazy. The Classes already have six biological children between the two of them from previous marriages. Lynne Class’ two children and Santiago Class’ four are adults and out of the house, but the couple was willing to leave their empty nest life and enter into the beginning of parenthood again for three new family members.
“Everyone wanted to know why we would want to start all over again when all of our kids were out of the house and we had so much freedom to do whatever we wanted,” Lynne Class said.
Class said she had heard all the varying opinions about their decision to adopt, but she never second guessed it.
“It’s like riding a bike,” she said about parenting. “Just comes back to you.”
The Classes saw a need for adoption and foster care in Alabama as they dealt with the Department of Human Resources (DHR) and social workers from various counties.
“We were always being told how much they needed adoptive and foster parents,” Class said.
Caitlin Licata of the Children’s Aid Society said they were seeing an increased need for families to adopt special needs children. The phrase “special needs,” however, does necessarily mean the child may have a mental, physical or emotional problem. The term can also apply to any generally healthy child of any ethnicity over the age of eight; to children with a background of abuse or mental illness; any with varying degrees of emotional, mental and physical issues; or sibling sets of three or more.
So the children the Classes agreed to adopt qualified as “special needs” because they were a sibling set. The parents were looking for Hispanic boys because Santiago, being Puerto Rican, is fluent in Spanish. Only a few weeks into the search, they were called about two teenage boys, and made the trip to South Alabama to meet them. Those kids, however, were unwilling to relocate. When that fell through, the Classes were heartbroken, Lynne Class said. But a short time later, they were approached again, this time for three siblings ages five, seven and eight.
“It was maybe only two months after that when we decided we wanted to adopt another child,” Class said.
The Classes were looking for an older girl to be a big sister to their three young children. They were contacted about a 14-year-old girl, but she already had a 12-year-old brother and a 10-year-old sister. The whole package, however, appealed to the Classes. “As soon as we saw them we knew they were going to be our children,” Class said.
Now with six adopted children, the Classes have what they had always wanted.
“My husband, Santiago, came from a large family,” Class said. “I was the oldest of three sisters, and always wanted a large family. We are so happy to be able to give a home to children who needed one.”
There are a total of approximately 4,960 children in foster care in Alabama as of June 11. Of those children, 253 are waiting for adoption with no identified resource, according to statistics from Alabama DHR.
Nearly 81.5 million Americans have contemplated adopting a child, according to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and if at least one of every 500 of these Americans adopted, every child waiting in foster care would have a home and family. There are many children still waiting, though.
“Recently, we have had a harder time finding families for our children,” said Licata of the Children’s Aid Society. “We are finding less and less families that want to adopt older children. Most of the time families want to adopt babies, and so some of these kids age out of the system.”
The Children’s Aid Society has a program called APAC that partners with DHR to prepare prospective parents for adoption.
“Though there is definitely a great need for international adoption, a lot of people aren’t aware of the need in our backyard,” Licata said. “There are a number of children right here who need a family, and whereas international adoption can cost thousands of dollars, you only have to pay the lawyer fees in a foster care adoption. Often those fees can be covered by a state stipend as well.”
Connie Rogers, program supervisor for Alabama DHR, said that DHR has seen many improvements in the process of adoption since 2002. From 2002 until 2009 there was a steady increase in the number of children being adopted. She has been encouraged in more recent years by the spread of awareness and by the partnerships with agencies like Children’s Aid and the Dave Thomas Foundation.
“Our counties have been doing a better job at getting the word out about local adoption opportunities,” she said. “Our partnerships are astronomical as well. We work so well together that sometimes you may come to a meeting and not know who is from what organization.”
Lynne Class now volunteers with the Children’s Aid Society. She has been co-leading APAC classes preparing parents for adoption.
“I wanted to still be involved,” she said. “We met so many great people – other families, social workers. And we all had the same end goal: to see children adopted or placed in homes. It was neat to see so many people with a desire to help children in need.”
Class found one of her daughters flipping through a photo album one day. She had made each of her new children an album with photos she had taken throughout their first year in the family. Some of them had never had pictures of their own to look at.
“I wanted to build good memories for them,” Class said. “There are so many things we take for granted, like going to the movies or eating at nice restaurant or even just having pictures.”
At their first Thanksgiving as a family, Class introduced her six new children to a tradition she had been doing for years with her kids. Every Thanksgiving she makes each child’s favorite food as part of the meal. Everything from chocolate cake to turkey was represented as eight of their 12 children gathered around the table.
“Some kids could maybe fit all of their belongings in one suitcase or even a trash bag,” Class said. “Some of the younger ones had never experienced Thanksgiving before. It’s these little things that can be really big things and make such a difference for them. [Adoption] could be the hardest thing you do, but it could also be the most rewarding thing you do, too.”
The Children’s Aid Society will begin a new set of classes soon. For more information about adoption or foster care, contact Caitlin Licata at email@example.com.