Anne and David Mickel have Maury Povich to thank for their latest family addition. No, five-year-old Danielle, who arrived home in December, didn't come via the US. The idea did. Anne said when watching the annual American television feature on adopting older children, they realized they "knew nothing about it ... it just seemed like something we wanted to do."
They called the toll-free number. When the information package arrived, it included information regarding the MCFD office in Victoria. This led them to their local social worker where they filled out an application to adopt and an adoption questionnaire. Luckily, the Mickels had a social worker who was "very pro-BC adoption," or they might have adopted through the US foster care system, Anne said.
As most will attest, the local adoption system can be fraught with delays, and the Mickels' experience was no different. Their decision to adopt coincided with the introduction of the 1996 Adoption Act, which slowed things down as workers grappled with the new legislation.
Once the Mickels got the homestudy under their belt, summer vacation immediately put the process on hold, although Anne was quick to commend her social worker for staying in touch and apologizing for the delays. Despite these initial delays, she said, "Life raced on, and we went with the flow."
The Mickels live in a small town with few adoption resources. To educate themselves, they attended foster care preparation classes, which tackled subjects such as the effects of alcohol, drugs, abuse and neglect, and attachment issues.
A year-and-a-half after calling the Maury Povich show, they were listed on the Ministry database. A month later, they received a proposal for Gail, a seven-year-old girl whom they were told had lots of friends and enjoyed school. They had their first visit with the foster family in August, and dreamed of having her in school by fall.
As time wore on, however, they began to feel ill at ease. They had difficulty getting a sense of who Gail really was. A social worker always seemed to be present. In hindsight, Anne said, they should have been more assertive and requested time alone with the foster mother and Gail in the initial stages.
When Gail eventually came over to the Mickels to spend an afternoon alone, Anne said, Gail flew around the house like a tornado and nearly caused serious harm to the family dog. The foster mother assured Anne that this was standard behaviour.
With three daughters to raise, the Mickels realized they could not handle a child who needed so much supervision and made the heartwrenching decision not to proceed with the adoption. In the end, both social workers agreed that Gail needed to be the only child in a family who could give her one-on-one attention.
Despite this setback, Anne and David still wanted to adopt. They turned down a few more high-needs children until they were proposed Danielle. She was four years old, and didn't present with high needs. Born to a 16-year-old mother, Danielle had been in foster care since she was 18 months old. After birth, she was shuffled to various relatives including a grandmother. There was no reason to suspect alcohol use, and her foster parents felt she was a normal four-year-old.
Anne said they knew in their hearts from day one that Danielle was going to be their daughter. A series of delays prevented her from joining their family immediately. The now inevitable summer holiday delay meant they visited her eight times in four weeks, and the foster family visited once. With each visit they became more and more sure that she was the right child for their family. It was a gut feeling that intensified over time.
Still, once bitten, the Mickels proceeded with caution, leery of a repeat incident.
They asked the foster family a lot of questions. "We grilled the foster family," with questions such as:
What is day-to-day life like with the child?
Can you turn your back to go to the bathroom?
Would she run off with a stranger?
Does she get along well with the other foster children?
Does she sleep well?
What are her eating habits?
Does she need medication?
Fortunately, the reviews of Danielle were positive, if not glowing. Anne said, "I kept thinking it sounds to be good to be true, and we were not looking for a perfect child... we just knew we couldn't handle really high needs.... We expect challenges as she gets older. When you adopt an older child, their past affects their future."
Finally, in December, their new daughter moved in just as the family was moving house. This turned out to be a small blessing. It meant the entire family started fresh rather than having Danielle move into an already established home.
Anne said Danielle has settled in well, "She is just delightful. She couldn't wait for school. She got right in there. She is in French Immersion and thriving in the academic environment. She has lots of friends. Her first report card exceeded everyone's expectations. She has an unusual ability to concentrate and is very attentive. Whatever she starts, she finishes. We have no concerns at all about her development and social adjustment. She is right on target."
Anne feels that Danielle is also flourishing in her new home. For the first time, she is taking swimming lessons, riding a bicycle, walking on the beach, skiing, and skating, things she had no exposure to in her foster home. "She had never been to a birthday party," said Anne. "Every day is a new thrill for her."
Anne said that Danielle led a sheltered life with foster family, but picked up some excellent habits. "She has very good manners and is extremely attentive in school."
Even though Danielle appeared to be adjusting well, the Mickels visited an attachment therapist just to be sure. They were reassured to find out that there were no serious concerns.
The Mickels now have a new daughter, and the girls gained a new younger sister. Danielle is now the youngest rather than the oldest. But, said Anne, other than normal sibling stuff, they have not identified any serious issues.
Anne anticipates that adoption-related struggles will emerge. And recently, she faced the question all adoptive parents hear when Danielle said, "I wish I wasn't adopted." "How do you mean?" asked Anne. "I wish I was like the other three [sisters]. I wish I was born here like them."
As with all children who come out of foster care, Danielle has many broken or dangling familial connections. She is in touch with a birth grandparent, a foster brother, and has three other siblings in different homes.
Ask lots of questions of the foster parents, they know the child better than anyone. They are the biggest wealth of information. Grill them.
"I wish there was a way to meet the child before the child is told this is your family. It would have saved a lot of heartache. This should be done early and on and in private so people can be themselves. In the long run, it's better for everyone that the best match is made."
"It was worth every minute of the wait and delays."