Lack of foster parents inspires Arvada family to adopt

Family recognized as part of National Adoption Month

Posted 11/4/19

Two years ago, Arvada residents Autumn and Steve Guzman drove down to a congregate care facility in Adams County, on their way to pick up the 12-year-old girl who the couple was mentoring through the …

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Lack of foster parents inspires Arvada family to adopt

Family recognized as part of National Adoption Month

Posted

Two years ago, Arvada residents Autumn and Steve Guzman drove down to a congregate care facility in Adams County, on their way to pick up the 12-year-old girl who the couple was mentoring through the Adoption Exchange's CHOICE program. The program connects foster children with members of the community, who participate in monthly outings and provide guidance in areas such as schoolwork and life skills.

As the Guzmans prepared to pick up their mentee for a program picnic, they questioned whether they had the right address. They had been expecting a home, but instead found themselves at the residential facility — which, rectangular and colorless, made the couple think they'd arrived at a warehouse or prison, Autumn said.

“It's where she lived, but it wasn't a home,” Steve said. “That's not a good environment for a kid to be in.”

As they came to know the girl better, the Guzmans would learn what life at the facility was like. Though children were well supervised, there was not enough staff to frequently engage with the children one-on-one or address individual needs such as, for instance, if a child needed transportation to an after-school activity. Though the facility had many security measures in place, incidents often brought police to the scene.

And from their first visit, the Guzmans were determined to become certified as foster parents, hoping to one day foster and adopt the girl.

A statewide shortage

From year to year, one fact generally stays the same: Colorado needs more parents to adopt children out of foster care, and it needs more foster parents to house children until adoption or adulthood, said Minna Castillo Cohen, director of the Office of Children, Youth and Families at the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS).

433 foster children in Colorado have yet to be adopted, with 74 of them in Jefferson County, she said.

When there aren't enough foster placements within a child's hometown or county, a child may stay in a residential care facility or move to a home in another county.

The care provided at these locations is required to meet high governmental standards; however, no matter the level of care, a more permanent solution would always be more ideal, Cohen said.

“When they (foster children) don't connect to a family with legal permanency, then you have a young person who emancipates out of the child welfare system trying to make it on their own at 18,” she said. “We know young people need parents. The best setting for young people is to be within a home.”

The CDHS is always looking to get this message out, and that's especially true in November, which marks National Adoption Month. The month's purpose: to encourage families to consider adoption, foster care or simply starting with programs like CHOICE, while raising awareness around the stories of local adoptive families, Cohen said.

To kick off National Adoption Month 2019, on Nov. 2, the State of Colorado recognized five families for their perseverance and commitment to adoption, including the Guzmans.

On Dec. 22, 2017, the family began fostering their CHOICE mentee, and on Aug. 23 this year, they adopted her into their family. The Guzmans have requested their daughter stay anonymous for privacy reasons.

Looking back on the road they took to get here, the family notes the challenges they met at every turn. They've reworked scheduling conflicts to become foster-care-certified as quickly as they could. They've fought to keep their daughter with them, instead of being transferred to another foster home, during the multiple surgeries Autumn underwent after a breast cancer diagnosis last year. And they've had countless conversations with their daughter to make their situation work, no matter what difficulties they face.

“Whenever it got hard, we had to remember why we were doing it,” said Autumn, who has since recovered from her illness.

She added that everything was worth it when “we got to tell her she could come live with us. Having her be a part of our family has been a breath of fresh air, and it feels so good to hear her be able to talk about the future.”

`Worth it every day'

The Guzmans now share their story, hoping it will inspire others to get involved, whether by fostering themselves, adopting or starting smaller with a program like CHOICE.

“It is a commitment and you have to be willing to get ready for that,” Steve said. “And there really is just such a need. There are a lot of kids who fall through the cracks.”

For those interested in getting involved, Cohen suggested visiting co4kids.org for more information.

“You could be single or you could be married, and you don't need an abundance of cash resources,” she said, adding that for every family, agencies and counties provide all necessary training and preparation. “We're looking for adults interested in providing that strong, secure place.”

As for the Guzmans, while every day brings new difficulties, looking back, the entire family is emboldened by everything they've already overcome, they said.

And, after spending 2,340 days in foster care and staying in 10 different homes, their daughter's outlook on life has changed after the adoption, they said — and so has theirs.

“She's ready for an adventure all the time, and to be part of that is what makes it worth it every day,” Steve said. “This is one of the most tangible differences you can make.”

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