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August 30, 20180

At the age of 30, Chris and Stephanie Johnson had their first child. Three years later they wanted to grow their family, but they soon discovered adoption was the only way it could happen. They didn’t have the $30,000 to $60,000 it would take for a private adoption, so they put it in God’s hands, and for nearly a decade they just went on with their lives. That is until last year, when God used a truck in need of repairs and the flooding of Hurricane Harvey to fulfill Chris and Stephanie’s greatest desire.

In March of 2017, Stephanie began feeling the pull to complete her family. Even though Chris thought after 10 years they had waited too long, Stephanie hopefully said, “No, let’s just pray about it.”

“Okay, God is going to show a sign,” Stephanie told Chris. “God is going to start opening the doors. When he does, are you ready?” Chris was onboard, but neither of them dreamed it would be just three months later when doors would start opening.

Chris was at the car dealership in Winne, Texas where he was the service manager, when Gregory Wysingle, an adoption coordinator for Arrow came in for truck repairs. Gregory had been on his way to court to participate in a case to have parental rights terminated when he realized he had pushed his luck too far with his truck. It had to be repaired now, even though he was far from home.
During their conversation, Gregory shared that he facilitates adoptions for children in the foster care system. And Chris shared that he and Stephanie had been praying that God would provide a way for them to adopt.

“When Chris came home, he laid Gregory’s business card on the counter,” said Stephanie. “I was in the middle of dinner. Dylan (their 15 year-old son) wasn’t having a good day. And when Chris told me he had a visitor today, I sarcastically told him…you have visitors every day. He said it was a special visitor, and I told him, yeah, I really don’t want to hear about it right now.”

So Chris just left the business card on the counter and went to change clothes. Stephanie looked at the card and saw Gregory’s title.

“So here I go chasing Chris through the house,” said Stephanie. “He told me about Gregory and that he was willing to come to the house to give us more information.”

When Gregory explained all the subsidies adoptable foster children qualified for, and the minimal cost to the adoptive parents, Chris and Stephanie were ready. But then Stephanie described the child she wanted to adopt, and Gregory explained it didn’t work like that. Stephanie needed time to process the idea that she wouldn’t be able to get the child she had longed for over the past 10 years.

Chris and Stephanie discussed the adoption opportunity during a long driving trip all the way to and from Florida. They agreed to hit the ground running as soon as they got back. They completed their foster parent training in just four weeks, and a month later they were licensed foster parents. Thinking they had several months to prepare for their first foster child, they were surprised when in just a matter of days they got the phone call.

“She asked me if we would take a respite,” said Stephanie. “I told her I must have slept through that part of the class, and I asked, what is a respite?”

Stephanie was told there was a foster family that had a 4 year-old girl named Destany, who just needed a temporary place to stay for five days. Even though everyone in southeast Texas, including the Johnsons, were getting ready for Hurricane Harvey, Stephanie agreed to take Destany…for five days.

Destany’s foster mom called Stephanie to arrange the transfer. She explained that Destany’s brother had medical issues, which meant lots of doctor visits. And because of all the attention her brother was needing, Destany would act-out with self-inflicted scratches, and self-inflicted head wounds. The mom would continue to foster Destany’s brother (and later adopt him), but Destany was just too much for her to handle.

“When I got off the phone, I thought, oh my dear lord, what have I gotten myself into,” said Stephanie. “Then when I went to pick up Destany, the foster mom brought more than just a few changes of clothes. She brought all of Destany’s belongings.”

When Stephanie called the Arrow Beaumont office for clarification, she was told that the foster mom couldn’t handle the children by herself anymore and they wouldn’t be going back. Arrow explained they were hoping to find a placement for Destany during the five days she would be with the Johnsons, but that the foster mom had been specifically told not to bring all the child’s belongings.

That night, the flooding of Hurricane Harvey started. The next morning Stephanie and Chris were having a cup of coffee and watching the hurricane updates when they heard the pitter patter of little feet coming down the hallway. Destany turned the corner, threw up her hands and exclaimed, “Momma, I’m home!”

Stephanie looked at Chris and said, “What do we do? She’s not home. She’s only here for five days!”

They attempted to discourage her, but Destany wasn’t buying it. And when Stephanie told her their first names, Destany said, “No. Mommy. Daddy.” And after introducing their 15 year-old son Dylan, Destany instead, called him “bubba.” Destany was very emphatic and could not be swayed.

Then five days turned into 10, then 15. This was Destany’s fifth placement since entering foster care at 16 months-old, and Stephanie told Chris that something had to be done.

“Are you ready to let her go,” asked Chris.

“No, that’s the problem,” said Stephanie. “She’s forming a bond with us. And if they don’t move her, it’s only going to hurt her more, and it’s going to devastate me.”

Once all the flooding receded, a CPS caseworker came to do a home visit so Destany could stay, but she wanted Stephanie and Chris to also take Destany’s younger brother. But Stephanie explained that Destany had not once acted out or hurt herself since being away from her brother, and they weren’t going to disrupt Destany’s progress by bringing her brother into their home. The caseworker went back to her office and explained to her supervisor the remarkable change in Destany. They decided to arrange a conference call between the CPS staff and Arrow staff to decide if the siblings should be separated.

“On the day of the conference call I was on pins and needles,” said Stephanie. “I was just watching the clock and praying. Then the phone rang. They said I could tell Destany she was home. So when she woke up, I told her she was home, that she wasn’t going to have to move anymore, and that this was her home forever. She looked at me with the biggest grin, and said, ‘I know that.’ Then turned around and walked off.”

After delaying the adoption because of Chris’ mother being ill, the adoption was consummated on June 28, 2018, Destany’s fifth birthday. Along with her new family, she now has a new name, Alivia Joy, who on day one with the Johnsons, prophetically proclaimed…“Momma, I’m home!”


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August 8, 2017

 

 

The medical staff at the hospital said the newborn wouldn’t live for more than a couple of weeks. But they hadn’t met the tenacious Tiffany Ross yet.

Tony and Tiffany Ross had married very young, but they stuck together through the struggles, and reached the point where they were content and happy with their lives. Tony had a good job, they had a nice house, and Tiffany was a stay-at-home mom raising their three kids.

In obedience to God’s calling to foster children in need, Tony and Tiffany have fostered about 25 kids over the years. “We both agreed, we don’t need a bigger family, we don’t want a bigger family,” said Tiffany. “We are fostering. That’s our ministry. That’s what God has called us to do.”

They understood their role was to take in broken children with various limitations, do what was necessary to see them healed and whole, and transition them to their forever adoptive home. But through a series of signs they couldn’t ignore, God changed their ministry to include adoption.

Tony and Tiffany have since adopted Joshua now four years-old, and Gracelyn now 3 years-old. Because of state regulations, another adoption would close their home to foster care. Since they wanted to continue fostering, Tony and Tiffany weren’t planning to adopt again. Not until a series of miracles indicated there was one more child who desperately needed them.

Tiffany was convinced that God wanted them to foster a child who had been diagnosed with a terminal condition. On a Friday, while driving to a couple’s retreat, she called Arrow’s State Director of Health Care Services Sharon Kiely to ask if there was a need for a foster home like that. Sharon told her there wasn’t that need right now, but if God was speaking to her heart, He was preparing her. Since Tony had not received the same message, Tiffany asked Sharon to pray for them as they considered taking in a child and loving on them during their last days.

The very next day, a little boy who was scheduled to be adopted was born in Amarillo, Texas, but because of a defect, the doctors didn’t expect Braylen to live more than a couple of weeks. Of course, the adoption agency backed out of the planned adoption. And two days later, Braylen’s mother abandoned him at the hospital.

The very next day, 650 miles away in Beaumont, Texas, Tony lets Tiffany know he also has heard from God, and they need to prepare to minister to a terminally ill child.

The very next day, Child Protective Services calls Sharon at Arrow asking about a possible home for Braylen. Sharon immediately called Tiffany. Tiffany responded, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

The very next day, the medical staff, social services staff, along with Tiffany and Tony conferred on Braylen’s condition. It was decided that Tiffany would fly to Amarillo to bring Braylen back to Beaumont.

The very next day, exactly one week after calling to ask about the need for families to foster terminal children, the CPS supervisor and case worker picked up Tiffany at the Amarillo airport, and took her directly to the hospital. Shortly after arriving, Tiffany shared contact information for the Texas Children’s Comprehensive Care Clinic in Houston. The nurse called the clinic to schedule an appointment for Braylen when they were back home. Normally, an appointment wouldn’t be available for weeks to months, but the clinic was able to see Braylen as soon as they returned, first thing Monday morning at 9:00 am.

Tiffany spent the night with Braylen, and it couldn’t have gone better. Braylen had not been able to finish a full bottle of formula and was being fed through an NG tube. But through the night, and into the next morning, Tiffany was able to get Braylen to take four full bottles. The doctors ordered the NG tube removed.

The very next day, Tiffany and Braylen spent time cuddling and getting to know each other. The connection was instantaneous, Tiffany completely fell in love with this little miracle. Before they left the hospital, the doctor told Tiffany that even though they initially thought Braylen would not be able to survive for more than a couple of weeks at the most, now they really weren’t sure because of his incredible response to Tiffany.

Later that day, when Tiffany arrived at the airport, she noticed things seemed strangely quiet, especially since it was the Christmas season. No people coming or going. The airport seemed almost deserted. As she walked down the hallway with Braylen in her arms, she began to hear singing. She turned and looked into a glass room, and there she saw the back of a choir on risers. They were singing about the newborn Christ-child, “Away in a Manger.”

At the ticket counter, the agent mentioned how precious and tiny Braylen was, and Tiffany responded by telling the agent she was concerned that the flight might be painful for Braylen. The agent assured her that he would be fine. Prior to take off, the pilot and another crew member came back to Tiffany’s seat to talk with her. They understood Braylen had just come from the hospital and that she was concerned about the effects of altitude pressure. The pilot explained that he found a lower altitude that they were cleared for, so he would be able to fly at a level that would have the least possible impact on Braylen. Then the pilot escorted Tiffany and Braylen to first class.

As they flew home through the dark, Tiffany looked down at the clouds and watched a beautiful glowing light below the clouds that led them on their way home.
At Braylen’s Monday morning doctor’s appointment, the prognosis was the same. Braylen had Hydranencephaly and was still considered terminal, with no prediction on how long he might survive.

Within the first month, Braylen’s head started growing exponentially. It surpassed the second and third percentile, and continued to grow until it was no longer measurable for his age category.

Braylen desperately needed surgery to relieve the building pressure in his head, but the earliest the surgeon would attempt it would be at the age of six to nine months. Braylen was 1 month old.

“Braylen was in such pain, he would scream day and night,” Tiffany said. “I stayed with him during the day until Tony came home at 5:00 or 6:00 and I would sleep until midnight. Then I’d stay up all night with Braylen while Tony slept. Tony would go to work in the morning and we’d do the same thing all over again.”

The situation finally escalated to the point where Tony and Tiffany had to take Braylen to the emergency room. While they were waiting for all the consults, Braylen started sundowning. Changes in his condition were changing so rapidly, the hospital admitted them.

The surgeon and two teams examined Braylen and came to the conclusion that Braylen’s discomfort wasn’t from increased intracranial pressure, but was just acid reflux. They put him on Tylenol around the clock and anti-reflux medication. Tiffany wasn’t buying it. She told them, “We’re not going home until we have a happy baby.”

After Tony and Tiffany spoke with another doctor, and after getting patient advocates involved, the surgeon finally agreed to put in a shunt to relieve the intracranial pressure.

When the doctor came out of surgery to let Tiffany and Tony know how the surgery went, he told them that when they pierced the membrane in Braylen’s head, there was quite a bit of pressure that was released. Tiffany thanked him for acknowledging and confirming her diagnosis.

“Braylen was a completely different kid,” said Tiffany. “He was happy. His head growth reverted to a normal growth rate. But even though the procedure brought relief, Braylen still had the looming ‘terminal’ label.”

At their next follow up visit with the surgeon, Tony and Tiffany meet with a palliative care team, who would help keep Braylen comfortable as the end of life came near. They also encourage Tony and Tiffany to prearrange funeral services, which they did. And then they consulted with the Gift of Life team about organ donation.

But Tiffany wasn’t ready to give up. She had been researching online, and found a place in Philadelphia that worked with brain injured kids. On the website, she read family testimonials, she watched videos that demonstrated the progress achieved by patients. Encouraged, Tiffany reached out to them, but never heard back.

While making funeral arrangements, Tiffany was asked if she wanted a burial or cremation. Fighting back the tears, she said she just couldn’t make that decision right then. Then her cell phone rang.

The caller ID on her phone said Philadelphia. Tiffany thought to herself, “Is this somebody calling about my student loans again, or is this actually what I pray it could be?”

After everyone left, she ran outside to a quiet spot and returned the call. It was the team at the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential. Tiffany knew right at that very moment, God was saying, “Don’t give up hope yet.”

Tiffany explained Braylen’s condition, and the response was “That’s great! Let me tell you how we can help and you can see if that works for you.”

Tiffany breathed a prayer, “God, you didn’t give me a kid that was hopeless, you gave me a kid that I could fix. I just didn’t know it at the time.”

The Philadelphia team is currently overseeing Braylen’s intensive treatment program and working with the doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital, but it’s Tony and Tiffany who are administering Braylen’s daily therapy. They send the team videos of Braylen’s progress so adjustments in therapy can be made if necessary. And right now, Braylen is doing remarkably well.

Tony and Tiffany had a big decision to make. Do they continue to foster Braylen, or adopt Braylen giving him a forever family, but at the same time creating a “full house” which closes their home to fostering any more kids.

They had come too far with Braylen. He was already their son. Now they just needed to make it official. So on June 1st, the family celebrated the consummation of Braylen’s adoption. Their new son joined his other five siblings in completing the Ross family. Tony and Tiffany expressed their appreciation to everyone that helped them on their journey in the following note:

“We want to take a moment to say a HUGE thank you to everyone for their help, thoughts, and prayers! Today was a landmark day in Baby Braylen’s Journey as he was “officially” adopted into our family! A day, early on, we weren’t sure he’d live to see, but God clearly has big plans for our little man!

“It was so beautiful to see everyone who came out to support us today! What an emotional experience… adoption is a little like the birth experience in the sense that emotions are high and the love for your baby is overwhelming! But it’s also a bit like a wedding, where everyone is there to witness as you vow before God and the court to raise that child as if he were born from our own bodies. The magnitude of that responsibility is so great, yet it’s such an easy thing to commit to!

“Braylen is such a huge part of our lives and the love we have for him has taken over our hearts so much that it really feels like he was born from my body…adoption is definitely a God thing! And we’re so blessed and honored He chose us to be Baby Braylen’s mom and dad!!!”

Tony & Tiffany Ross


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May 16, 2017

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None of the treatments were working. According to the doctors, there was no medical reason why they couldn’t get pregnant. But Valarie and Evan Maier were trusting in God’s plan and His timing.

“We never prayed for a baby,” said Valarie. “We prayed and prayed for a family.”

The Maiers began looking into adoption but quickly discovered that the cost of a traditional adoption was prohibitive for them. Then a friend, who was a foster parent, explained how inexpensive it was to adopt a foster child and how the state even pays for the child’s support while they are in foster care.

“We decided that while we were waiting to see if the Lord would give us our own bio child…we could give one of His kids a home,” said Valarie.

Valarie and Evan were attending a CPS meeting where they heard about a lot of different foster care agencies, but Arrow’s foundational scripture resonated with them. Psalms 127:3-4 says “Children are a gift of the Lord…like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” For them, confirmation they found the right agency was when they met the Arrow staff. Valarie said, “We just loved the people. They were wonderful!”

The Maiers desire was to foster one child who was 6-years-old or younger. So when their first Arrow fostering experience turned out to be providing respite care for two African-American sisters, one of which was 8-years-old, the Maiers realized their vision was too narrow.

“It didn’t make any sense,” said Valarie. “Why are we putting parameters on what God can do? So we said we’re just going to be open.”

Valarie and Evan grew to love the young sisters, so much so that they tried to adopt them twice. Even though they were being considered, ultimately another family was chosen. Their trust in God’s plan and His timing remained strong.

The first foster child to be placed into their care was Vaughn, a newborn whose drug addicted mother was going into rehab for several months, and his father became incarcerated.

Ironically, just days before Mother’s Day 2013, Vaughn’s parents relinquished their rights. Vaughn’s mother told a case worker that she didn’t think she could make it on her own with him. She also expressed how thankful she was for the good care that Vaugh was receiving, and how she wanted him to stay with the Maiers. During a court proceeding, when Valarie and Evan just happened to be in the room, Vaugh’s father told the judge he couldn’t take care of himself, how could he care for a child.

Adopt VFinally, through Vaughn’s adoption at 15 months old, this loving couple had become what they prayed for…a loving family. But the Maiers were about to experience Ephesians 3:20 which says that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”

Less than two weeks after Vaughn’s adoption, Valarie received a call from Arrow asking if they would be open to another placement, a 6-month-old boy named Jace. Valarie and Evan enjoyed plenty of bonding time with Vaughn before his adoption, so the answer was “yes.” But Valarie had the same questions she had asked when they took Vaughn into their home, “What’s the situation with the bio mom…is this a long-term placement or do we have any idea?”

The answer shocked her. Jace’s mom was 14-year-old Ashlyn, whose mother was living with a possible sexual predator accused of raping one of Ashlyn’s school friends, and he was on the run from police. But Ashlyn wasn’t being removed because there wasn’t a group home who could take her. Valarie asked if they were actively looking for a home for her, the surprising answer was “Not at this time.”

Valarie wanted to take Ashlyn and her son Jace, but their license wasn’t adequate. The Arrow staff helped Valarie and Evan get everything taken care of in less than a week so they could open their home to Ashlyn and Jace.

Valarie called Ashlyn and asked if she was planning on raising Jace, or if she thought it might be too much for her to handle. Ashlyn was emphatic that Jace was her son and she was going to raise him. She said, “This is not my fault. I don’t have a job, and I can’t get a job because I just had a baby.” At this point, Ashlyn was an 8th-grade dropout with a six-month-old baby to raise.

After the state placed Ashlyn and Jace with the Maiers, it wasn’t long before Valarie was able to get Ashlyn back in school, partly because of a wonderful teen mom program the school offered. The school bus would pick up Ashlyn and Jace, take them to Jace’s daycare where Ashlyn would check him in every day, then the bus would take her on to school. After school, Ashlyn rode the bus back to pick up Jace before going home.

“She got him dressed every day, she fed him every day, and we did our very best to make sure she understood the difficulties she was facing as such a young mom,” said Valarie. “Their placement in our home came with the condition that we supervise her parenting efforts. But if she wanted to parent, we were going to allow her to be a parent.”

The unique situation of Ashlyn raising 6-month-old Jace while Valarie was raising 16-month-old Vaughn allowed for many practical teaching moments to reinforce Ashlyn’s growing parenting skills.

Ashlyn had been to church a few times in her life and had even accepted Christ as a child, but she never really understood what it meant to be a follower of Christ. Through Valarie and Evan’s strong faith example, and Ashlyn being able to attend church on a regular basis, it wasn’t long before she developed a true relationship with Jesus, even if it did start out a little rough. At the beginning, she begrudgingly attended church, assuming everyone would be judgmental and condemning. Instead, she was embraced and loved by everybody. They even started a single moms group to minister to Ashlyn. One of the focal points of the ministry is called Embrace Grace, which is a combination baby shower and “princess day.” Older ladies in the church cook food for the event, and bring baby gifts, while the young moms get all dressed up so they can see themselves as the Lord sees them – pure and whole, and completely spotless.

After about a year with the Maiers, Ashlyn’s parents relinquished their rights, which presented Ashlyn with multiple options. But because she didn’t have a job and couldn’t support herself, emancipation wasn’t one of them. She could continue in foster care with the Maiers, or they could adopt her. Or she could move to a group home that would take teen moms. Ashlyn said, “I want Jace and me to be a family. And I need a family because I need help.” Ashlyn chose adoption.

Ashlyn AdoptionIn December 2014, Ashlyn’s adoption was finalized, and the state dropped Jace’s case since he and his mom were now in a stable home environment. Not only did Valarie and Evan have Ashlyn as a new daughter, but they also had Jace as a new grandson. But the biggest surprise of all happened just three months earlier when Valarie gave birth to their newest daughter, Meridian. With three kids under three-years-old, “It was a party at our house all the time,” said Valarie.

Having experienced the placement of two babies in their home, and having to scramble to purchase all the baby things they needed, Valarie and Evan decided to start FAM (Foster & Adopt Ministry) to provide the things foster families need for an infant placement. They maintain a clothing closet with prepacked bags of clothes for all different children’s age groups and sizes, plus they provide things like baby beds, bouncers, and walkers. Valarie explains, “Our goal is to fill the gap between the phone call for placement and the child arriving. We bring the practical things the family needs so they can have time to bond and not have to run to the store on day one.”

Valarie’s passion for helping foster kids also led her to train to be a CASA volunteer to advocate for foster children in court. And she continues to encourage others to foster, “Many times I’ve shared with people, anytime you sit at the dinner table and there’s an empty chair, or you walk down the hallway, and there’s a bedroom with no one sleeping in it, that’s an opportunity that’s being missed to witness to and love a child. And they haven’t done anything wrong. It’s the parent’s fault this kid needs help, so help the kid!”

Family outdoorToday, Ashlyn is a high school graduate, she is employed, and Jace is in school, and they have their own apartment. The desire of Ashlyn’s heart is to help other kids who go through the same type of turmoil she has overcome, so she is currently considering her college options in order to pursue a career in counseling.

Ashlyn and Valarie have a fairly typical mother-daughter relationship. “She probably calls me five times a day,” says Valarie. “It’s great! She’s my daughter…it’s just how it is!”

Once again the evidence is undeniable…God’s plan and His timing are perfect.


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December 21, 2016

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At six years old, Raven was often left alone to take care of her baby brother Benji and her four year-old brother Gavin, while their drug and alcohol addicted mother would party with her friends. There were even times when their mother would drag the three children with her while she got wasted.

Neighbors took notice of the children’s situation and called CPS, but when the knock came at the door, their mother told the kids to hide and be quiet. It wasn’t until Raven showed up at school wearing her mother’s clothes that raised a red flag, and school officials intervened.

Their mother was allowed to have a final meal with the children at a McDonald’s before CPS took Raven and her brothers away. For the kids, it was just normal day playing on the McDonald’s playground equipment. Then their mother called them over and began crying as she told the kids they were going to be taken away from her, and she couldn’t do anything about it. The kids started crying and didn’t understand what was happening to them. Emotionally exhausted, Raven fell asleep on the long drive to their new foster parent’s house.

“We were in that home for about two years,” explains Raven, now 19 years old. “But those foster parents only wanted to adopt my baby brother, they didn’t want us older kids.”

The children’s Arrow Ambassador Family Specialist would not consider splitting up the siblings. She told the foster parents it was an all or nothing situation. So Raven and her brothers were taken to the home of Frank and Pam Rogers.

The Rogers had just previously fostered two other children they were hoping to adopt. But they were devastated when the judge granted custody of the children to their biological grandmother. Frank and Pam decided they just couldn’t go through that kind of heart break again. But Mala Ganapati, Arrow’s regional adoption coordinator, contacted the Rogers, and explained how much these three children needed them.

“My first impression of them was that they were very nice,” said Raven. “It’s funny, but they gave us presents the first night we got there, and of course, as a young kid, you’re automatically going to like those people. They were really good at making us feel welcome and making sure all of our needs were met. They always made sure we were doing something fun.”

As wonderful as the Rogers were to Raven and her brothers, Raven still had a lot to overcome from the years of neglect she suffered.

“I suffer from mild depression,” shares Raven. “I used to have to check all doors and windows to make sure they were locked. I also have a mild eating disorder, and once had to have food close to me constantly. I guess I was afraid I might not get any more.

“It hasn’t always been rainbows and butterflies. We definitely have had our problems, but we work it out. I’m very fortunate to have the parents I have now. I think if I were still with my birth mom now, I’d probably be pregnant, or on drugs. I may not even be alive.”

With Frank and Pam’s love and support, Raven is discovering her purpose in life. Which in many ways began when Frank and Pam were blessed to witness Raven’s baptism in 2014. Then this past semester at the University of Dallas, Raven began to get a clearer picture of what she wanted to do with her life. Even though Raven loved playing basketball for the school, which gave her a higher self-esteem, taught her discipline, and challenged her through competition, something in her heart was changing.

“I felt something much stronger pulling at me, kind of calling out to me to do something different,” said Raven. “I felt a much stronger need to start my future with social work and helping others, sooner rather than later. I really want to help other kids who have experienced the same things I did growing up.”

To follow Raven’s “calling,” she is transferring to a community college near her home, and she is switching majors from psychology to social work. She also contacted the local Arrow office to inquire about an internship or volunteering opportunities.

“I feel like I broke the cycle,” said Raven. “I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but I think I’m a pretty good person. I work hard. I am very caring. I’m a strong Christian. I don’t drink or do drugs. I make good grades, and I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college with a degree. I think I turned out well.”

We think so too!

There are many ways to help a child who has suffered abuse or neglect. Of course, by becoming a foster parent, you’ll have the opportunity to make a direct and eternal impact, just like the Rogers had in Raven’s life. Learn more about fostering by attending one of our monthly information meetings. Details are available at www.arrow.org/meeting.



March 23, 2016

shutterstock_336280856Our children are our future and a gift from God. In light of National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, we’ve gathered some information on the signs of child abuse, what to do if a child comes to you, how to report child abuse, and ways to prevent child abuse.

Signs of Child Abuse

Note: This list is not exhaustive. Trust your gut instinct if you suspect abuse and report it.

  • Unexplained injuries – visible signs of abuse in the form of unexplained bruises or burns, sometimes in the shape of objects; child may have unconvincing explanation of the injury
  • Changes in behavior – scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn, aggressive
  • Returning to earlier childhood behaviors – fear of the dark or strangers, thumb-sucking, bed-wetting
  • Changes in eating – the stress caused by abuse can lead to weight gain or loss
  • Fear of going home – kids may express anxiety/apprehension about leaving school or going places with the abuser
  • Changes in sleeping – frequent nightmares or difficulty falling asleep, thereby seeming tired or fatigued
  • Changes in school performance/attendance – difficulty concentrating in class, or excessive absences, especially if adults are trying to conceal injuries
  • Poor personal care/hygiene – appearing uncared for, consistently dirty or have severe body odor, lack proper clothing for the weather
  • Risky behavior – kids abused may participate in risk-taking behavior such as drug use or carrying a weapon
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors – demonstrates unusual sexual knowledge or explicit sexual language

If a Child Comes to You

Should a child come to you and report he or she is being abused, it’s important to remember the following tips.

  • Keep calm and just listen. Try to remain as neutral as possible as the child speaks to you about the abuse. Do not display disgust or shock, as the child might think it has to do with them and not about what has happened to them.
  • Don’t promise not to tell. Instead, say you’ll promise only to tell people who need to know and that you’ll let the child know beforehand.
  • Reassure the child they did the right thing by telling you.
  • Write down everything while it’s fresh in your mind.
  • Report the abuse. You have the power to help a child who is hurting and in danger. You can report anonymously should you so choose.

“Don’t let fear of getting involved prevent you from reporting concerns. It’s our responsibility as a community to prevent abuse,” says Andrea Requenes, Regional Director at Arrow Child and Family Ministries.

How to Report Child Abuse

To report cases of child abuse, contact your local Department of Family and Protective Services. In the state of Texas, this number is 1-800-252-5400. Nationally, you may contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

Ways to Prevent Child Abuse

Scott Lundy, President and CEO of Arrow Child & Family Ministries (Arrow) and President of the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services, declares, “There needs to be a revolution at the taxpayer level to reach out to our elected officials to demand that more funding be allocated to child abuse prevention services. We have to be able to begin to slow the rate at which children are being abused at home.  It takes the right prevention services to make this happen.”

In order to strengthen parents and families and prevent the cycle of child abuse from occurring, it’s important that parents and caregivers feel they have a support system in place and resources readily available to them. Here’s how you can help.

  • Be willing to be a support system for your neighbors and their kids and grandkids
  • Volunteer in the community by becoming a mentor to kids, or donating time or resources to community organizations
  • Help a family under stress. For example: babysitting, running errands, or helping with chores
  • Get involved in a local school by attending their events (plays, sports games, performances), join the parent-teacher organization, or even start a neighborhood watch

Additionally, make sure to check out the Safe Families for Children program. Safe Families provides breathing room and support for parents in crisis who may need help caring for their children until they can get back on their feet. Volunteers in this program aim to reduce the risk factors for child abuse by coming alongside parents before a situation escalates.

New Program Coming Soon

Arrow Child and Family Ministries in partnership with several area agencies in Houston is excited to announce a new program coming soon called ParentingHelp. Preparing to launch in April, the program will offer resources such as in-home training and support services for families at risk for abuse. For many, these resources couldn’t come at a better time. Those looking to take advantage of the program can expect to receive parenting and discipline techniques as just some of the many benefits through ParentingHelp.

Want to know more? Attend an informational meeting to learn ways you can be involved in a child’s life.

Source: https://www.childwelfare.gov/



March 1, 2016


Baileys2Recently Misty and Randy Bailey adopted Hagen after fostering him for nearly three years. During their journey, the Baileys faced every possible emotional and physical challenge any home could possibly take.

Misty and Randy Bailey started fostering with Arrow at the beginning of 2013, and one-year old Hagen was their first placement. At the time, the CPS worker indicated Hagen would most likely be adoptable since there was no family member currently taking any of the necessary steps to get him back.

Nearly a year later, Hagen’s birth mother showed up. Since she was pregnant again, she decided to start complying with CPS to get her life in order, and possibly have Hagen returned to her.

Misty had never asked Hagen to call her mom, but during his time with the Baileys, Hagen naturally began doing just that. But during Hagen’s family visits with his birth mother, she told him that Misty “isn’t your mother…I am!” At just two years old,  Hagen was confused and distressed. For Hagen, Misty and Randy Bailey were his mom and dad.

The emotional upheaval took its toll on Hagen. His bathroom training regressed, and he starting hiding soiled clothing around the house just to have some kind of control in his life. Then Hagen was hit with another devastating blow when his birth mother passed away a few weeks after a tragic accident.

Misty and Randy struggled with continuing to foster due to the extreme emotional turmoil Hagen was going through, but they never gave up. They believed this little boy’s life was in God’s hands, and through His providence Hagen would eventually be where God wanted him to be. After nearly three years of struggling, growing and loving together, prayers were answered recently when Hagen’s adoption was consummated. And yes, Hagen Wesley Bailey is exactly where God wants him to be…at home with his real mommy and daddy, Misty and Randy.



July 16, 2015

Back Hands Flowers
The sisters hold hands at a neighborhood park.

From a young age, adoptive mother Shelley grasped a concept that some seem to struggle with—foster kids are just “normal” children.

When she was a little girl, her neighbor was a foster mother, so she frequently befriended the foster children and helped outwith the babies. Years later, Shelley remembered those experiences as she considered becoming a mother through adoption.

“I knew there were so many kids out there… good kids, in need of homes,” Shelley said.

With that in mind, Shelley and her husband decided that they would be a perfect fit to adopt a sibling group. After completing their training as foster-to-adopt parents, Shelley and her husband were eventually selected for 3 and 4-year-old sisters.

The day they met Emma and Anna at a neighborhood park, the family instantly clicked. The girls had been with an Arrow foster family prior to Shelley, and the foster parents, along with a counselor, had prepared them to meet their adoptive family. The oldest, Emma*, talked about wanting to come to Shelley’s house, and how she wanted her own mommy and daddy. She also insisted that she wanted a “princess family,” so as Shelley prepared Emma’s Life Book (a special scrap book for foster children), she wrote it as a fairy tale.

“It was just amazing,” Shelley said. “It was unreal. They were so perfect and ready.”

That’s not to say there weren’t obstacles.

Anna was a bit more scared and hesitant than her outgoing sister. However, Emma helped Anna with the transition and frequently reassured her. Additionally, Anna’s speech was delayed, so at first, she would grow frustrated when Shelley couldn’t understand her.

Now, her speech is on track, and she’s slowly coming out of her shell. Unlike her princess-obsessed sibling, Anna loves super heroes and especially Spider Man.

“To watch her personality grow has been one of the best things,” Shelley said. “She is so sweet, and so funny.”

Also, Emma has had to learn to accept boundaries. Before entering foster care, the girls were neglected, so Emma felt she was in charge. She also felt she had to stash food to reassure herself she and Anna would have something to eat.

Her Arrow foster family, counselors and adoptive family worked with Emma to make her feel safe, and now those things are no longer an issue.

It has been about two years since the family adopted the girls, and they are doing incredibly well.  They’re smart, funny and well-adjusted, and Shelley feels lucky to have them in her life.

“Our case was a fairy tale,” she said.

*The girls’s names were changed to protect their privacy at the request of their family.



June 24, 2015

 

Arrow mom’s Facebook post goes viral

Arrow adoptive mom Charity Robinson and her son Lincoln appeared on Fox and Friends after a photo of Lincoln making a new friend touched the hearts of tens of thousands of people on social media!

Charity snapped the photo of Lincoln playing with Jason Taylor, a local pastor who was sitting near the family at the rodeo, and shared it on her Facebook page with this message:

Dear stranger next to us at the rodeo,
When my son came up to you and grabbed your arm, you didn’t know he used to be terrified of people. When he talked to you about the bulls, you didn’t know he was diagnosed with a language disorder. When he jumped in your lap and laughed as you tickled him, you didn’t know he had a sensory processing disorder. You also didn’t know as his mother, I sat in my seat, with tears running down my face, sneaking this photo. When we adopted him a few short months ago, we didn’t know how long it would take for him to laugh, play and engage others like this. You didn’t know any of this, but you took time to connect with a child who has had to fight to learn to connect. My heart is full. Thank you.

The Robinsons are such a special family, and we are so proud of the progress Lincoln has made!

 

 



March 5, 2015


Linc1One of our families found their missing “Linc!”

Two-year-old Lincoln, also known as “Linc”, was adopted last week by Charity and Brenton Robinson near Tyler, just a week after the toddler’s birthday. To celebrate, the Robinsons held a combination birthday and adoption day party last Saturday.

The Robinsons are ecstatic to finally, officially call Lincoln a part of their family!

Lincoln came to live with the Robinsons with special medical needs and developmental delays. He only knew three words—“ball,” “bye” and “shoe,” and he always clenched his hands, which hindered him from developing fine motor skills.  Even standing was difficult. In his first physical therapy session, Lincoln fell down more than 40 times.

He had some emotional problems as well. Lincoln was scared to do things like dry his hair with a towel, or pet the family’s dogs. He had trouble communicating verbally, which caused him to become frustrated and lash out.

Linc2

But that didn’t stop the Robinsons from opening their hearts to him. Children with special needs wait longer on average to be adopted, if they’re adopted at all, because only a small portion of foster parents are willing to take them in. However, the Robinsons believed they could make a difference in Lincoln’s life.

They were right.

Since Lincoln was placed with the Robinsons, he’s totally transformed. Lincoln has overcome his physical and speech problems through six months of therapy three times a week. Now, he’s down to one session a week with an occupational therapist.

He’s grown from a timid child to an affectionate, sociable 2 year old who loves to hug and snuggle. When he’s growing frustrated, Lincoln knows to put himself in “time out” and cool down.

Next week, Lincoln starts T-ball. It’s hard for Charity to recognize her active son as the same little boy who had trouble standing just a few short months ago.

“The most rewarding thing about adopting is seeing the difference in your child over time,” Charity said. “It’s seeing your child starting to love you over time, and blossom into a child he was destined to be, and having your child look into your eyes with such life and love compared to when he was first placed.”

Charity urged foster parents to be open to caring for children with special medical diagnoses.

“Don’t let your head be your guide, but your heart” Charity said. “What God blesses you with may be different than what you had in mind. Do not be caught up on the child’s diagnosis on paper. They can overcome their obstacles if you love them and help them to succeed.”

Go to www.arrow.org/foster to learn more about how you can adopt a child from foster care.



February 12, 2015


Blogger Liz Curtis Faria, a former social worker, graciously allowed us to repost her blog entry about a troubled foster child, desperately reaching out for someone to love him. Unfortunately, his story is not unique. Thousands of children in the foster care system are waiting to be adopted right now, and are at risk  of meeting the same fate as him. The boy in the story was never adopted, and we can’t help but wonder how much differently his life could have turned out if a family would have taken a chance on him.

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upset boyIt was something about the phrasing that got to me. Something about the cadence of his words, the staccato of his speech.

“Nobody loves me. Not even my mother who gave birth to me.”

It is an odd turn of phrase, isn’t it?

Not even my mother who gave birth to me.

He was buckled into the backseat of my Toyota, still too little to sit up front. At seven he had already moved more times than the total number of years he had been on the earth. And this time, like the times before it, he moved with his belongings in a trash bag. A suitcase, at least, would have added a small degree of dignity to the whole affair – to being “placed” in another and another and yet another foster home before reaching the 3rd grade. Trash bags break, you know. Trash bags can’t possibly support the contents of any life, and certainly not a life as fragile as this.

They break from the strain, eventually.

This move was harder for Stephen than most. It was a home he thought he would stay in, at least for awhile. He had felt affection there. When I went to pick him up, after his foster mother gave notice that he could no longer stay, he came easily with me; head down, no reaction on the surface of it. It was only when he got into my car that he began to sob the kind of aching sound that leaves you limp in its wake.

He could barely get out the words. Nobody loves me. Not even my mother who gave birth to me.

Months later, in a repeat scene (another foster mother, another removal), he would put up a fight. He would run around the living room, ducking behind furniture, refusing to leave. But on this night he had no fight in him.

That was Stephen at seven.

Nine-year old Stephen grips his report card in sweaty hands. We’re headed to an adoption event, where we will meet families who want to adopt an older child; families who do not automatically rule out a boy like Stephen with all of his long “history.” And he wants to impress them, these strangers. He wants to win them over, and so he brings his good report card along as tangible proof that he is a child worth loving.

A child should never have to prove they are worth loving.

Twelve-year old Stephen tells me that I’m his best friend. I’m his social worker, and he should have a real best friend, but I don’t say this to him. We’re at a taping for Wednesday’s Child, the news spot featuring children who are up for adoption. Stephen is engaging on camera. Maybe somebody will pick him this time. Maybe he is offering just enough evidence, at twelve, that he’s a boy worth loving. And he is lovable, truly. But it is not enough. A family never comes.

Years later, long after I’ve left the agency, I get an email from my old boss asking how I’m doing, and ending with a short P.S. Stephen is in DYS lockup after running away from his foster home. You need to adopt him.” My stomach drops. I’ve had this thought many times. I should adopt him myself. But I don’t.

I heard about his murder from a friend who had seen it in the news. Shot outside a party over some foolish dispute. Dead at 18, dead just as he became a man. Not my Stephen, I prayed. When I realized that it was really him – that it could be no other – I sobbed gripped by the kind of anguish that leaves you limp in its wake.

What have we all done? What haven’t we all done.

The newspapers ran very little about the murder, as if it were an afterthought. Barely worth a mention, really. Anonymous strangers posted nasty comments online: “Just another gangbanger,” they said. You don’t even know him. You don’t know the first thing about this boy. You don’t know that as a child he would trace letters into my back with his finger to pass time at the doctor’s office, asking me to guess what phrase he was spelling out. “I ♥ U” he traced between my shoulders, the last time we played this game.

Stephen had been wrong, that night in my Toyota. His mother did love him, in her way. She was there, at the funeral. She greeted me kindly. I think she knew I loved Stephen as I knew she did. We both failed him in the end, and that joined us I suppose. Neither of us could give him a family.

There were no photos from Stephen’s childhood at the funeral home. No images of the green-eyed boy with the sweet smile to remind us of what had been lost. There were no pictures of Stephen with his brothers, and so I printed up snapshots of the four boys together, taken on a supervised visit, and brought them to the funeral to give to the family. It was something I could do, against the larger backdrop of nothing I could do.

There were very few social workers at the funeral, and none of Stephen’s many foster mothers. Were they even told he was dead? Stephen spent more of his life being raised in the system than out of it. If you claim legal responsibility for a child, you best show up at his funeral. You should show up when he dies. He was yours, in a way, wasn’t he? You owe it to him. And if he did not belong to you, then who did he ever belong to?

His mother was there, at least. His mother who gave birth to him. I hear the echo of his voice from those many years ago.

Somebody does love you Stephen. I want to tell him. But it’s too late.

Stephen was the one, for me. The one who embodied all the failures of a system so broken that to heal it would take far more than the casts that heal the literal broken bones of the children growing up within it.

They break, you know. These kids we leave behind. Eventually they break.

You can learn more about fostering and adopting through Arrow at http://www.arrow.org/foster.

You can find Liz’s blog at www.amothershipdown.com and her Facebook  page at https://www.facebook.com/amothershipdown.

*Stephen is a fictional name for a real boy the world lost.

 


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