COVID-19 hasn't stopped adoption journeys

Deirdre McCarrell Otis and her husband Sheff have nine children, five biolgical and four adopted. Pictured are James, 20; John, 18; Annie, 18; Mickey, 17; Nate ,16; Mark, 15; Daisy, 13; Lucy, 9; and David 4. Not pictured are the 20 foster children  the family has had in their home over the last five years. 

Adoptions and foster care placements have continued throughout the COVID-19 crisis, but both children and families are facing additional challenges due to the ongoing pandemic. Thankfully, in Minnesota there are many organizations with resources to help them navigate such challenges.

One of those organizations is MN Adopt, which creates permanent placement for children in Minnesota by providing online resources, services, support and training. The organization's mission is to have “zero kids waiting” for loving, lifelong homes. Through raising awareness, providing referrals for families interested in foster care or adoption, and offering education, support and resources, MN Adopt finds and strengthens adoptive, foster care and kinship families.

Heather Van Brunt is the manager of MN Adopt's HELP Program, which provides post-adoption support to Minnesota families. “Our job is to highlight the resources and support and tailor them to what their needs might be,” she said of the program. “One of the biggest things that we do is connect people to adoption-competent therapeutic resources. We also help people connect to community organizations that might not be labeled as adoption support or post-adoption support but still might fit for a particular family at a particular juncture with things that they're experiencing.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed day-to-day life for families, including those who have adopted or are seeking to adopt children, and so MN Adopt's operations have had to change somewhat as well.

“At first we had a brief period of time where we just didn't hear from as many families as we thought we would,” Van Brunt said. “This was in March and April when things were new. I think everybody was a little bit more in a frozen kind of mode. But since then, it's been going back up to previous levels of engagement with families.”

Van Brunt said that much of the support MN Adopt is offering through its HELP Program these days centers on increased time at home. “With being at home together more, families need more support,” she said. “And so because there's been an interruption for so many people with some of the in-person services at school and therapy, families are engaging with us to see what other options are there.”

Throughout the last several months, families have been utilizing telehealth services for therapy and counseling more often than they did with in-person services prior to the pandemic, Van Brunt said.

"You have disruption with what school looks like these days and what work looks like and what families' work-life balance, so a lot of them are looking for extra support,” she said. “One theme that we have seen is more families accessing therapeutic support because they can do it through video in their own home. They're not running here and there and everywhere for these kinds of services.”

Raising children comes with challenges no matter how those children came to be a part of the family, but Van Brunt says the highs outweigh the lows—especially with support along the way.

“We try to help people prepare for all the joys and challenges of children and how they come to them and the unique aspects about them,” she said. “Specialized support and being surrounded by other families who are having that same lived experience is really, really helpful.”

Shoreview resident Deirdre McCarrell Otis can attest to the joys brought by adoption in her own life. She and her husband, Sheff, have nine children, five biological and four adopted, between the ages of 4 and 20. Deirdre said that adopting children has long been a priority for her.

“I think that came from being an only child, and I was raised kind of all over the world. I traveled a lot and was exposed to different things,” she said. “I think part of it was just really wanting to create community and feeling a drive, almost, like this young, fresh energy and proving that you can create community without biology. It was a really strong value that I had.”

That value, Deirdre said, has primarily been informed by her faith.

“We're Catholic, and that definitely is part of who we are as a family,” she said. “But it also was a sense that it is possible to create a community without blood ties, and we built our family on that concept.”

When Deirdre and Sheff first sought to adopt, they did so internationally.

“We were newlyweds and we traveled to Russia. Our son had severe special needs, to the extent where we were told in the orphanage, 'Are you sure you want to do this? You're so young.' We were almost dissuaded from the experience,” she remembered. “But we really said, 'We're going to dedicate this energy we have to a child and to diving into this world.”

Though those first few months and years were not easy, Deidre said, they still made for an invaluable experience.

“Looking back now, 20 years later, I think it really created a desire to learn about children's needs, trauma (and) what it means to be a parent to someone who needs you to constantly be learning,” she said.

Deirdre and Sheff have since opened their home to more children, both through adoption and the foster care system. “We started with international adoption, and through that process our eyes were opened to how much it takes to be an adoptive parent. It's something where you really need to educate yourself, and we realized how much we had to learn,” Deirdre said.

That realization brought them to seek out education and support from local organizations like MN Adopt which, in turn, made them increasingly aware of the local need for adoptive and foster care families.

“We hadn't known about that before,” Deirdre said. “At that point, we were having biological children and raising children who were adopted internationally, and then we became foster parents in 2014 through Ramsey County.”

Since their first foster care placement in 2015, Deirdre and Sheff have opened their home to more than 20 children in Ramsey County's foster care system and have continued to do so since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“To us, the best language (to describe foster care), is bridge or support a child going to a family who's really hoping to adopt, because in foster care, when (children) come to your door, you don't know what's going to happen. Our goal through foster care is really to be a safe landing spot,” Deirdre said. “We really went into it wanting to serve, wanting to be safe and help kids heal and help families heal.”

 

Elizabeth Callen is the editor of the Shoreview Press. She can be reached at 651-407-1229 or shoreviewnews@presspubs.com.

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