Families bring foster, adopted children home

A phone number sat stored in John Ferrer's cell phone for a year before he ever thought to dial it.

He saw the seven digits on a foster-parent recruitment poster hanging in his son's New York pediatrician's office in 2002 and punched them in his phone without much thought.

A year later, curiosity pushed him to make the call. Today, people tell him and his wife, Justine, how lucky it was that he did.

People say it when they hear about Isabella, born on the steps of a church on a freezing morning to a 36-year-old mother from Haiti who "left her for dead," Justine said.

How lucky it is that the Ferrers took in the recovering infant in 2004 and made a new life for her when they moved to Martinez in 2007.

"People always say to us she is very lucky," Justine said. "John always says 'We're the lucky ones.' "

Fostering led the Ferrers to adopt Isabella in 2004 and another infant, Ciara, in 2006. They say the joy they found in adoption lasts year-round but is especially poignant in November, which is National Adoption Month.

"There are so many kids in the U.S. that need homes," Justine said. "It's a crying shame."

In Georgia alone, there are 13,965 children in foster care, and 2,370 of those are eligible for adoption, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dan Almeter, the regional adoption coordinator for the state adoption unit for Richmond County, said his office has made a push to keep children out of foster care by placing at-risk children with relatives instead of strangers.

This makes it easier for the children who do enter the state system to move through the adoption process within the goal of 24 months, he said.

With about 130 children in foster care in Richmond County, 46 of those are eligible for adoption.

Most of the children entering foster care locally who become eligible are separated from their parents because of emotional or physical abuse, neglect, or a lack of stable housing, Almeter said.

THE FERRER'S second adopted child, Ciara, entered the system based on derivative neglect, in which her other siblings had been neglected or abused before her.

Justine watched as Ciara's birth mother signed her daughter away at a year old, the most "heartbreaking thing a mother could do," she said.

Ciara, 4, and Isabella, 6, know what struggles made up their past but what love surrounds their lives today.

They look at the Ferrers' three biological children, ages 18 to 25, and call them family.

They run around their Martinez living room, begging for Daddy's attention and running into his arms as Justine looks on.

Both girls know about their birth parents, and Justine said they keep open lines of communication when the families cooperate.

"That's the million dollar question everyone asks," Justine said. "We took a risk. But I didn't ever want my children to question and have to solve unsolved mysteries when they are older. They have to know what their roots are, their heritage."

ADOPTION SUCCESS STORIES like the Ferrer family's are what Family Counseling Center of the CSRA tries to accommodate, in addition to the Division of Family and Children Services state program.

Although the organization does not place children for adoptions, it acts as local families' liaison between out-of-state and private adoption agencies.

Dawn Jett, the executive director of the center, said her group currently provides home studies and post-placement visits to almost 20 local families.

Jett said in her seven years of working with adoptions, there has been more of an outreach from families in Richmond County.

"When I first started adoptions, it was parents who were dealing with infertility issues," Jett said. "Now the trend is they really just want to open their hearts and lives to another child or another culture or children in need."

Beth Drafts first worked with the center in 2007 when she and her husband, Ryan, adopted their first child from China.

With two biological children at home, Drafts said adoption was a dream she had to fulfill.

"As a young child, I was the child who played adoption when everyone else was playing house," Drafts said. "We had our boys and we wanted more children, and I always knew adoption was something that was close to me."

The Drafts adopted Mason-Kate, now 3, as an infant from Great Wall China Adoption after she briefly lived in an orphanage and foster care.

Their Augusta family will soon grow again, as they are preparing to adopt a second child from China, 15-month-old Maddox, early next year.

Despite their love for their children, Drafts said some still question how an adoptive child can fit in a family.

For her it's no mystery.

When people ask questions, Drafts' response is simple.

"I say 'well, (Mason-Kate) has two mothers. She has one mother who gave her life and me, who will teach her how to live it.' "

Adoption agency working to add staff in Augusta
Area adoptions

Number of adoptions in Richmond County:

2007 - 22; 2008 - 20; 2009 - 17; 2010 - 14

Source: Department of Family and Children Services

By the numbers

13,965 - Number of children in foster care in Georgia

2,370 - Number of children available for adoption

Source: Adoptuskids.org, a Department of Health and Human Services partnership

How to adopt

If you are interested in adopting through the state of Georgia, call (877) 210-KIDS (5437). For out-of-state adoptions, contact the Family Counseling Center of the CSRA at (706) 858-5011. Learn how to begin the process at www.adoptuskids.org

Adoption Fair

Richmond County Division of Family and Children Services is holding an adoption fair.

WHEN: 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 30

WHERE: Richmond County DFCS, 520 Fenwick St.

WHAT: DFCS will give an overview of the adoption process and local agencies will have information