Eleven area families who recently adopted foster children gathered in Oakland Thursday afternoon to celebrate National Adoption Month and the cherished new additions to their families.
Most of the children were foster children adopted through the Alameda County Social Services Agency. While only a select few were there today, the agency is on track to provide permanent families to 98 children in foster care this year, county officials said.
Children who enter foster care often have been abused, neglected or abandoned and can’t continue to live with their biological families. While the agency strives to return them to their biological families or find other relations to place them with, often that is impossible and the children need to find permanent homes elsewhere.
Tom and Shari Marcotte of Livermore were two parents who attended today’s event at the social services building in downtown Oakland. They are intimately familiar with the process, having adopted two children, including a 2-year-old foster child, and cared for other foster children in different capacities.
They finalized their adoption of their 2-year-old son Ben last year, but he is the fifth foster child in their life, the couple said.
The couple spent years volunteering as Court Appointed Specialty Advocates for the county, outside observers who check in with foster children and make sure they’re getting the best care possible from their foster families, social workers and the county.
They would spend time with the children, developing relationships with them and checking in with them for an afternoon occasionally to make sure everything was going well, taking them to activities like the steam trains at Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley.
The advocacy work is intense, requiring six weeks of training and a big commitment to follow through with the children. They would submit a roughly two-page report on the children’s status for court appearances, insight that they said the judge always appreciated.
Any child in foster care can be assigned an advocate, but there are too few volunteers to go around, they said.
The couple took in two other foster children before they adopted Ben. When they first started volunteering as advocates, they also signed up with a private adoption agency and adopted their other son Ted, who will celebrate his fourth birthday next week with a bowling party.
They still keep in touch with at least one of the children they advocated for, who calls them from time to time for advice, and are still friends with their previous foster daughter, they said.
“We miss her a lot,” Shari Marcotte said.
When they picked up Ben, they were very nervous because he was premature and had been in the intensive care unit, they said. He was six weeks old at the time.
But now, at age 2, Ben was squirming in his seat at the event. He and his brother race their Power Wheels cars around the yard, wrestle each other, and build Lego cars and planes.
“Ted will build him a car and he’ll push it around the house and break it,” Shari Marcotte said.
They still keep in touch with Ben’s biological mother and have met his father.
“We think that’s important,” Tom Marcotte said. “When he becomes curious we will be able to give him his whole story.”
President Ronald Reagan first established Adoption Week in 1984 and President Bill Clinton expanded it to the entire month of November during his term to raise awareness of the need for good, stable homes for foster children.
There are 1,441 children in foster care in Alameda County and 154 of them are available for adoption.
“In Alameda County we celebrate Adoption Month to raise awareness of the growing number of children for whom adoption and the promise of a permanent family slips further and further away as they celebrate another birthday,” Social Services Agency director Lori Cox said.
Children rarely go to college without a family’s support and assistance, so if they don’t find a permanent foster family and aren’t reunited with their biological family by the time they reach young adulthood the odds of finding a family and pursuing higher education become slight.