Adoption often leaves older children behind, alone, but waiting families change the future
Many of the children have had multiple placements and repeated rejections. Older kids have trouble trusting. They've been lied to and had promises broken. They may lie themselves and break promises. Biological families may still be part of life: Some of the kids maintain relationships; some have siblings who cannot be adopted with them, but the ties remain.
Claudette Soto and Rene Barraza of Chicago adopted sisters when the girls were 11, 9 and 8. They had a son already, but Soto was led to adopt because she had been changed by the death of a friend when he was 19. He'd battled addictions and major depression. "No one had taken him, his teachers gave up on him, his mother gave up on him. He was electrocuted on the third rail of the el (elevated) train in Chicago. I was a senior and vowed never to let someone pass through my life again without reaching out."
The couple share a heart for children with issues like alcoholic parents or histories of being abused or neglected. They started a nonprofit summer program for such kids. When they met their daughters, "I felt like they were already part of our lives," she said.
Everyday things are sometimes unfamiliar. They've had to teach the girls respect and morality. They sent them to private Catholic school to help with that. They're showing them how things are supposed to work. Even privacy required a lesson. Used to being interrogated by others, they had few filters.
Trust has been the greatest challenge — a common issue in older adoptions and hard in both directions. "Their mother did a brave thing and gave them good closure. She told them she could not take care of them and was entrusting us to be their parents. It let them go," Soto said. "Some keep going on and on and keep their children in limbo."
There are setbacks, Barraza said. Somehow, they're always followed by growth and progress. He would not rethink the decision to adopt.
Neither would the Walkers. "(Rae)'s brought a lot of energy and chaos to our lives," said Ellen Walker. "It's a lot of fun sometimes. And really hard sometimes. I hope she knows she has a permanent home. We are always going to care about her. She had never really had that."
On a recent sunny Saturday, fresh from riding horses with her mom, Rae talked about family. She and the Walkers entwined their lives through adoption one year ago, at Easter. She has a wealth of pets and people who care about her, including those new brothers who tease her gently.
When Don and Ellen Walker talked about adopting her, she said, "I wondered how long it's going to take before they realize I'm not good and they throw me back." That has happened a lot in her life.
Do you really think you're no good? she is asked.
"I used to. But not anymore. I know I am loved."
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