MAZEPPA — It was clear to Melissa Zettlemoyer of Mazeppa that the number of children in need of adoptive homes outpaced the number of prospective parents.
Zettlemoyer, a recruitment unit supervisor for Foster Care for Children and Youth (FCCY), thus began foster parenting.
The first child in foster care with her husband Brian went home.
“When you do foster care, there is always a chance they go home,” Melissa said. “There is (also) a chance they can be adopted, but it does take some time.”
About six years ago Melissa and Brian took in two boys and later a girl, siblings, as foster children. One year ago next month, the couple legally adopted Jaime, now age 10, Mateo (nine) and Gabriella (five).
Melissa said because of her work, she could see situations where there was a need.
“Knowing that there were so many kids out there that needed homes and there weren’t really enough homes,” she observed. “We would get phone calls for referrals and we didn’t have families to place them with.”
Biological parents have rights, Melissa noted. But once the process got to the point of terminating birth parent rights, their service as foster parents was a plus. Legal obstacles, even costs, were not as large because they were foster parents.
Melissa added that the statewide adoption agency (SWAN), reimburses for adoption.
The three children are familiar with their biological mom, which is not always the case with all adoptions.
“(She) will still call,” Melissa said of the biological mom. “(She) will check up on them and see how they are going. They will talk to her.”
Melissa said on any given day, it is up it to the children as to whether they want to talk with their biological mom.
“I don’t want them to not like me or blame me because they didn’t have contact with mom,” she said. “I leave it up to them.”
Even with knowing their mom, the children gained a sense of belonging thanks to their adoptive family.
“Mateo especially,” Melissa said. “Once he knew that the (birth parent) rights were terminated and we would definitely be adopting, he just wanted to be adopted by Christmas last year. So the attorney got us a date for Dec. 21.”
Mateo cried when he heard the good news from Melissa and Brian.
“When we got to court and he finally realized that it was official, your last name is now Zettlemoyer, the same as ours, he cried again,” she said. “Even though he had that connection with his mom, he just wanted to belong somewhere. I think all foster children do. They just want someplace to call home, someplace permanent.”
Melissa said even though FCCY advertises, there are still slow times. Based on calls, she estimated there was about 50% percent less interest than 10 years ago. Prospective adoptive parents should know that if they don’t have the finances to do an overseas or private adoption, the agency is an option to consider.
“There are so many kids just in Pennsylvania that need permanent homes,” she said. “Some people foster and that is just what they want to do. They don’t want to be a permanent resource. Then we have some who would like to adopt.”
Fostering to adopt can be hard, she noted, in part because it may not lead to adoption.
“You don’t know if they are going to stay or going to go,” she said. “At the same time, even if they go, at least while they were with you, you gave them a good start, you gave them a good life.”
Melissa said she fields calls in her work about foster children who go back. Adoption, she concluded, may in some cases be one of those things that happens “if it was meant to be.”
FCCY, a provider of community-based foster care services, has five offices statewide. Locally, they are at 25 Bedford Blvd., Milton and can be reached at 800-747-3807.