When Sam and Ashley Way married in 2009, they envisioned having children through the natural birth process. But two years later, when the couple began trying to become pregnant, they discovered that they had an infertility problem.
Sam and Ashley, now 30 and 28 respectively, tried naturally for three to four years and attempted artificial insemination. When their hopes were dashed, they began looking into adoption.
That resulted in the couple adopting four siblings, ages 2 to 17, through the Muscogee County Department of Family and Children Services. Since completing the adoption in September, the children have been adjusting to their new life on 5 acres in rural Marion County.
“We fell in love with them the minute we met them,” Sam Way said. “Everybody says these kids are blessed to have us, but we think it’s the other way around. We’re the ones blessed to have them in our lives.”
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Nov. 13 is considered Orphan Sunday, a day when “Christians around the globe celebrate the love of the God who defends the cause of the fatherless and calls us to do the same,” according to a website promoting the annual observance. The month of November is also National Adoption Awareness Month by presidential proclamation, and Nov. 19 is a day when many adoptive parents in Georgia traditionally move forward with their adoptions, said DFCS Communications Director Susan Boatwright.
“This month is dedicated to making communities aware of the children in Georgia who are looking for a forever home and celebrating the everyday heroes who have adopted children this year,” said DFCS Director Bobby Cagle, who was adopted around the age of 1. “I know firsthand the importance of belonging to a family full of love and support, and I want that for all of our children.”
Though some couples opt for international adoptions, Boatwright said it’s important that prospective adoptive parents know there are plenty of children in Georgia who need homes. She said there are currently 400 children eligible for adoption throughout the state.
“In my opinion, a child in need is a child in need,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that the community is aware that there are children in need in their own community, not just in other countries. I don’t want to take anything away from a child in need. But I think sometimes people don’t know.”
In the spring, Cagle launched an initiative called “There’s No Place Like Home,” directing resources toward resolving the barriers that were preventing the finalization of pending adoptions. Boatwright said the project increased the number of statewide annual adoptions from 850 in 2015 to more than 1,000 this year.
“It’s never difficult finding families that want to adopt a young child that’s 5 years old or younger,” she said. “But where we find we really have a big need is for older children and for those who come into care and they have one sibling, two siblings, three siblings, four siblings. And we want them all to stay together.
“And so, a family who is willing to take on four siblings, that’s really something,” she said, referring to the Way family adoption. “In the past year, out of the 1,000 or so adoptions that occurred, a quarter of them had siblings. Twenty-two of those adoptions were families that adopted four or more.”
When it comes to teen children, some people may be reluctant because the children are almost grown and set in their ways, Boatwright said. Some people fear the children might have some behavioral problems that they can’t manage.
“But once a family gets to know a child, if they would just give it a chance, I think they might learn that even teen children, they’re just older children, literally,” she said. “And they still need love and support.”
Cheryl Cameron is regional adoption coordinator for a State Permanency Unit that covers Muscogee and seven other counties. In Muscogee County, there are currently 39 children up for adoption, she said. Only four of those children don’t have an adoptive opportunity currently. Two are in foster homes, and the other two are in group homes. Three are teens.
“Muscogee County is very fortunate in that the majority of their foster parents do make the decision to adopt,” she said. “In addition, they have a large number of relatives who are adopting currently.”
Cameron said the Muscogee DFCS office started a special Adoption Unit six months ago to make the issue a priority. She said it consists of about four or five case managers. Once a child becomes legal for adoption, the case is transferred to the adoption unit, where foster care and adoption workers collaborate on finding suitable parents.
“We have decreased the amount of time after we get termination of parental right ... to when we’re actually able to release them for adoption,” she said. “I would say, on average, it is around three months.”
Boatwright said DFCS works with parents toward reunification when children are removed from a home. A case-plan is developed through Juvenile Court to try to address parental issues, such as drug abuse. Before the child can return to the home, those issues must be resolved, which happens in many cases, she said.
“But there is the piece of balance in how long a child should remain in foster care before he or she deserves a right to live with a family and have some level of permanency and stability in their life,” she said. “Typically, we try to work with a birth family over a year or two. And then, if it seems we’ve just given it every shred of hope, then we will move to terminate the parental rights.”
The process can be an emotional roller coaster ride for many foster parents who want to adopt children placed in their homes, she explained.
“You won’t talk to anyone who’s been through an adoption who hasn’t had anxiety or had their hearts broken a couple of times going through the process,” she said. “Even at the end, if the adoption occurs, the way the system is set up, is to just allow the opportunity for the birth parents or any other family member to come forward who might be suitable, and weighing that out with what’s in the best interest of the child.”
Sam Way said he and his wife considered adopting through a private company but didn’t like the idea of having to pay $20,000 to $25,000 for the process. So they contacted DFCS and began training to become adoptive parents in October 2014.
Way said they were asked to indicate ages, race and how many siblings they would accept when filling out the paper work.
They attended state adoption parties where they got to meet eligible children. They also went to the state’s “It’s My Turn Now” website, which features children who are up for adoption.
“During this time that you’re waiting, these folks are coming to your house every month and they’re checking your house,” he said. “The amount of things you have to do to your house is unreal. I mean, you have to have your septic tank signed off on. They want to see your water bill to prove you have water. They were very demanding in what they required, but that’s understandable.”
One day, Cameron told the Ways about a group of siblings in Muscogee County who needed a home. One of the parents was in prison, and the other was in and out of jail and hardly kept in touch, Way said. The children were in separate foster care homes for two years. The 10- and a 12-year-old brothers were in Dawson, a 17-year-old sister in Albany, and a 2-year-old sister in Columbus. The caseworker was adamant about keeping them together.
“Of course, we were kind of nervous because we didn’t have children,” Way said. “The thought of going from none to four, just like overnight, kind of freaked us out. We had never had any children living in our house.”
He and his wife had a heart-to-heart conversation and decided that they would take the children in. He said it took about 10 months to go through the adoption process, which included the children visiting the home on multiple occasions. They completed the adoption papers Sept. 9, and the children were officially adopted on Sept. 30.
Way said the children now have their last names, and one of the boys changed his middle name to Way’s first name and the other changed his middle name to Way’s middle name.
“It’s just crazy how they’ve adjusted to everything.,” Way said. “We’ve had no problems whatsoever. ... They’re just great kids and it just blows my mind.”
And the family is growing. Ashley Way is finally pregnant, and the baby is due Feb. 3, her husband said. But at least, now, she has lots of help around the house.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Way. “We didn’t go into this expecting to get four kids, but now we know it was God’s plan, and there is no other way to explain it.”
Families and individuals interested in adopting through DFCS can call 877-210-KIDS for more information.