In the last five years alone, the number of kids in foster care waiting to be adopted has doubled. Half of them are sibling groups and children of African-American or Hispanic descent who need families that support their cultural, ethnic, and linguistic identity. Being a biracial couple, Jemia and John Cunningham-Elder were open to the idea of adopting a child of color from the beginning.
As newlyweds and grad students in Boston, Jemia and John began considering adoption as a path to grow their family. After a few discussions, Jemia decided to call MARE to learn more about the process. "This conversation made it real and laid out the steps; we felt confident to start the process right away. We were told it would take around 18 months, so we decided to get started," Jemia explained.
They prepared for adoption by reading books, blogs, and attending webinars. As helpful as these resources were, they felt the need to hear directly from real people, particularly biracial families. Through MARE's Mentorship program "Friend of the Family," the Cunningham-Elders were matched with a family with a similar makeup. "They would check-in, maybe once a month, and the mom would share the worst things that had happened and how she addressed them. It made it not only real, but that we could get through it," Jemia shared.
The day they got their license, their daughters' profiles were uploaded to the DCF system, and a call followed. "The next day, we got a call from Sarah, our social worker, saying that they had found two girls who matched our profile. This happened in October, but we didn't meet them until December," Jemia said. After the holidays, they were full of excitement to meet Jaliyah and Jayannah, who at the time were 7 and 3 years old. "During one of their first visits, the girls were playing, and our dog was following them around. I remember thinking, 'Look at these little kids in our house; this is about to be our life.'"
Following a transition period with regular visits, the girls officially moved in during February. The adjustment period was challenging; for most families, there is a gap between expectations and reality. "Nobody prepares you for that; you think they're going to be one way, and they are not, you have to adjust," Jemia explained. Together, the family overcame the adjustment period with support from their social worker, Facebook adoption groups, therapy, and learning about trauma-informed parenting. "Especially in the beginning, it's hard, but then there's this whole other life. You plant your bulbs in the winter and see them bloom in the spring; we're still going to be together — that's permanency. Things get better."
After the first year, the girls realized they weren't going anywhere and they began to thrive. Now, they are a busy family of five, Jemia and Jon had Jamison before the adoption was finalized. They moved from Boston to Chicago and now spend their days running between gymnastics competitions, basketball, and track events.
If you are considering adoption, Jemia shares a piece of advice: "Talk to people; there are so many of us who, if you're very serious, we will talk to you and support you. There is a whole community here for you."
African American children are not only overrepresented in foster care, they are less likely to be adopted, especially when part of a sibling group. Matching them with loving and supportive parents like Jemia and John is what MARE aims to do every day. We believe that there is an adoptive family out there for every child who needs one.