Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November is National Adoption Month

I will never forget the day that the desire to was imprinted on my heart.  I have always hoped to adopt and support those in the process of adopting, but one little guy showed me that having a plan or a hope isn't near enough - there has to be action behind that hope that makes a difference.

This little guy, let's call him John, changed my life when I was very new in the field of child life.  At 12 years old, John was a member of one of the roughest gangs, had been in six foster homes, one group home and three schools.  He had met two of his biological siblings briefly, but they were never placed together so he grew up alone.  His mom had tried to keep them together, but her addiction got her into trouble and left her unable to even visit John.  He never knew his dad.  

John came to the hospital after being involved in a high speed car accident in which he was one of the drivers.  His injuries included a long list of extremely painful problems that required multiple surgeries to correct leaving him in the hospital for many months.  The only visitors allowed to see him were his current foster parents who came only one time during his admission and his social worker.

At first, John was to cool for me and seemed annoyed by my daily visits.  I would bring activities and often end up doing them alone as he sat silently, seeming to count down each minute till I would leave. One day his physical therapist told me he was able to get out of bed and actually needed to ambulated but was refusing.  I taped two huge pieces of butcher paper {one for him and one for me} on the wall of his room and provided him with every art supply I could find to fill it up.....pencils, markers, crayons, paint, glue, etc.  That day I sat with my back to him and quietly colored on my paper.  Everyday for the next week I came in and did the same thing until one day I was paged by his nurse and came to find him sitting at his blank paper.  He had walked over to it which was a huge accomplishment and had asked for me to come early.  We sat there in silence for two hours filling that paper with color.  This continued until he no longer had room on his paper from a sitting position and requested physical therapy come to assist him in standing.  I tried not to show my excitement, but I couldn't keep the smile off my face!

We continued to build rapport and John continued to build his strength despite a few set backs that landed him in the ICU for a short period of time.  Eventually, he was ready for discharge, but his placement was uncertain.  When those details seemed to be worked out, the day finally came.  We talked extensively about leaving the hospital, starting fresh at a new school and identified reliable support people outside of the relationships he built in the hospital.  We planned a discharge party for the big day, staff came by to say goodbye and John prepared to leave, but no one came.  We waited most of the day until we finally reached his social worker and learned his housing plans fell through and he would not be leaving.  On the outside John appeared to be thrilled because he would be staying a few more days, but I wondered what feelings were tearing through him and my heart shattered.  I didn't have to wonder for long because John said, "I wish I could just come live with you, you wouldn't forget me".  He knew this wasn't possible, but the idea that he felt forgotten and otherwise alone outside the hospital was heartbreaking.  

John was discharged to a foster family where he stayed for about three months before running away.  He was homeless for a few months and tragically killed in a gang related fight at 14 years old.  I often wonder if his life would have been different if he had felt remembered, if someone had taken the time to invest sooner.....

Adoption isn't an option for everyone, but providing support is.  Supporting a family who is in the process of adoption or volunteering for an organization that reaches out to at-risk kids can allow one more child to feel remembered.  November is National Adoption Month, but it's so much more than that to the hundreds of thousands of children waiting for a home in the U.S. alone.

*all identifying information has been changed for the privacy of the patient*

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