The Herald Bulletin

December 21, 2013

Families reflect on choosing to adopt 'special needs' children

By Kelly Dickey
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — “Special needs” means a mental or physical handicap for most, but in the adoption world, it means children who are harder to place. For the families who adopt them, though, the words have no meaning.

While the term does include children with certain medical and emotional needs, most children in the foster care system who are considered special needs are 2 years of age and older or have at least one sibling, according to the Indiana Department of Child Services. The circumstances add extra challenges that fewer prospective parents are willing to face.

Lapel resident Kristy Allender understands those challenges. She and her husband, Carl, have been foster parents to 53 children.

Allender said she considers all of her foster kids her children, but there was something about biological siblings Kadan and Julian that made her choose adoption.

“They grew in (their biological mother’s) tummy, but they grew in our hearts,” Allender said.

Allender and her husband have two biological children, Kourtney, 22, and CJ, 19, but she said there’s no difference between them and her adoptive children. In fact, the word “adopted” as an adjective was often referred to as “the a-word” in the house.

“You’re only born once,” Allender said. “You being adopted is a one-time event. You’re not forever my adopted son. You’re my son.”

Allender said she knew the brothers belonged in her home permanently their first day there and the boys’ circumstances allowed them to be adopted. Their biological mother was young and there was neglect, but Allender said the woman cares about them and was happy they were adopted together.

Carolynn Barr, a case worker for adoption and foster care agency The Villages, said children in the system know their parents can’t care for them but it doesn’t necessarily make it easier for them to adapt.

“It’s devastating for children to be removed from their biological homes,” she said. “You would think children who are abused or neglected are glad to leave, but they’re not. They want to be with their biological families.”

Kadan, who was adopted when he was 6 and is now 12, said he has fun with his adoptive family and that it’s better than being on the streets.

“I think if you’re going to have kids then you should actually care for them because they’re your responsibility to take care of them,” he said. “You wanted them so you have to keep them and you better take care of them.”

James Wide, Department of Child Services communications director, said he doesn’t know how many special needs children are in Madison County because the state doesn’t tally the number by county. He said the state is actively recruiting families for 75 to 100 children throughout Indiana.

“Obviously the goal is permanency for children,” Wide said. “If they age out of the system, we still have services that help them adapt to adulthood.”

From June 2012 to July 2013, the state had 1,311 adoptions, he said.

Barr, who was adopted and has worked for The Villages for 14 years, said there are privileges to adopting children in the special needs category.

“Knowing that you’re really helping a child that may not have a family and who has gone through a lot is a big reward,” she said. “Children in the system know their families can’t care for them. You’re really going to be making an impact on a child.”

Muncie resident Chuck Jarnagin said his children were the ones who made an impact on him. He and his wife have adopted four children, three through the Special Needs Adoption Program (SNAP).

The couple tried to conceive for years and went through tests and treatments.

“With our fertility problems, I hated to hear any time someone was pregnant or having a baby shower,” he said.

His wife, Deana Jarnagin, said looking back, she’s realized it was meant to be. They were able to adopt their oldest son, Anthony, 19, within days of his birth through a private adoption. Cecelia, 10, Gavyn, 6, and Hailey, 5, were adopted through SNAP.

The Jarnagins said they don’t think about the adoptions that much and the kids rarely ask questions, but when they do they’re open and tell them as much as they can.

“(Anthony) was only 3 years old when he goes, ‘Look, Mommy, Red Lobster. Did you always eat Red Lobster when I was in your belly?' ” Deana said. “It just caught me off guard and I was like, ‘Oh.’ How do you explain to a 3-year-old?' ”

They addressed the issue by creating an album with pictures and papers to explain the adoption. They’ve tried to be as open with the kids as they can.

Since Cecelia is Mexican, the parents try to teach her about her heritage without making her feel different from the rest of the family. They said each of their kids have a different story of where they come from, but what matters is they’re a family now.

“‘These kids were blessed, yes,” Chuck said, “but these kids blessed us.”

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