When Kenza* was a teenager, her parents adopted Esme, a 6-year-old girl with special needs from foster care. Esme had suffered greatly at the hands of her biological mother, who poisoned the little girl with Arsenic, causing mental retardation and a severe seizure disorder. Esme couldn’t do even the most basic things for herself. Even so, she charmed her new family, and quickly became the center of their world. Four years later, after Kenza had left for college, Esme died suddenly from a severe seizure. Her death triggered a deep calling in Kenza to one day adopt a child of her own. “I’ll never forget Esme. She was just as bright as she could be, and she changed our family forever.”
Kenza, now 42, got the chance to adopt nearly three decades later as her own daughter was preparing to leave for college. She had heard of recent changes that allowed single parents to adopt children from foster care. “When the opportunity came for families of all types to adopt, I seized it,” the single mom of two said. She and her family began taking the required training courses, filled out the necessary paperwork and started working with an adoption specialist to match Kenza with a child. Since she already had 11-year-old son, Kenza told adoption specialist Wendy Childs that she wanted to adopt an older, African American child. “Wendy told me that was rare.” Kenza didn’t realize that most of the 600 or so homes approved for adoption only want young children.
“People worry that they won’t be able to mold and guide older children, but that’s just not true,” said Wendy, who has been an adoption specialists for almost eight years. “Older children do respond to the guidance and loving encouragement. We see that all the time.”
Still, finding forever families for older children is one of the Department of Human Services’ biggest challenges. Specifically, families are needed for children who are: Caucasian and over age 9, African American and over age 2, siblings and children with special medical or psychological needs, according to Marilyn Counts, adoption unit manager for the DHS Division of Children and Family Services.
About 36 percent of the 442 children in Arkansas currently available for adoption through DHS are between the ages of 6 and 11 years old.
Project Zero, a local organization that raises awareness about adoption needs in the state, hosts events to match the harder-to-place children with families going through the adoption process. It was at a Project Zero “Salon Day” in February that Kenza met her new daughter. Prospective parents chatted with children as they painted their fingernails and had their hair done by professional stylists.
Kenzli, a petite 9-year-old with short hair and reserved personality, would hardly look Kenza in the eyes as the two spoke. Some of the other girls were more talkative, but it was Kenzli that Kenza spent the most time with that day. They both loved the color pink and Kenzli laughed in surprise when the older woman let the young girl paint her nails. Back home, her other children were calling and texting their mother asking for updates and photos. “I remember telling the kids, ‘I found your little sister.’”
Wendy and Kenza talked often after that day, and by mid-March there were plans for Kenza and Kenzli to have lunch at McDonalds. “I remember you from spa day!” Kenzli said as the two met again. Kenza had given Kenzli a scrapbook with information and pictures of her other children, the family dog named Freckles and a blank page that Kenzli could fill out once she became part of the family.
Soon after, Kenzli moved into her freshly painted bedroom two doors down the hall from her new big brother. Though her adoption won’t be final until later this year, Kenzli has begun adding her own photos to the family scrapbook that Kenza gave her before she moved in. There’s a photo of her playing soccer, her older sister Kesz at Marine boot camp graduation, pictures of her grandparents on Easter Sunday and her first forever family photo.
And just like Esme did for all those years ago, Kenzli already has changed the lives of Kenza and her children forever.
“I think it’s one of the best decisions we ever made,” Kenza said. “Kenzli has been an amazing blessing to all of us.”
* Due to confidentiality agreements, only the first names of family members were used in this story.
Each November, the nation observes Adoption Awareness Day. During this month, the DHS Division of Children and Family Services celebrates the adoptions of children in foster care that were finalized and continues to work to find forever families for children still wanting a place to call home.
Adopting through the Department of Human Services is FREE. For more information about adoption, you can visit www.adoptarkansas.org to view some of the children in Arkansas looking for forever families. For more information about foster care, go to www.fosterarkansas.org.
You also may call 1 (888) 736-2820. In Pulaski County, anyone interested in adopting or fostering a child may attend an informational meeting the second Thursday of each month at the DHS-Southwest office at 6301 Baseline Road in Little Rock. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.