For every story that siblings get adopted into the same family, there is another where that is not the case; the siblings are separated and are placed in two different families. “When Megan and Malcolm came to us, DCF was getting ready to separate them,” explained Chip LaRiviere. While Chip and his husband, Louis, were not new to adoption, this was their first placement through the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
Three years earlier, the fathers adopted a baby girl, Elly, through a private agency. They were able to meet Elly’s biological mother two months into her pregnancy and worked with her right up until their daughter’s birth.
As Chip and Louis were working through the process of private adoption, they were simultaneously taking MAPP classes with the thought that adoption through foster care could be a viable option for their family. When Elly was about three years old, Chip and Louis got a call from DCF about a four-year-old boy, Malcolm, and his eighteen-month-old sister, Megan.
As is the case with many sibling groups in foster care, there was a very high chance that the siblings were going to be separated. Chip and Louis were open to adding both siblings to their family, which meant that Malcolm and Megan would be able to stay together. However, immediately after the children moved in, the family began to face major difficulties.
The family had not been properly briefed on the level of mental illness that Malcolm was struggling with. They felt stranded without professional resources. They quickly realized that advocating for themselves was the best way to move forward. Chip said, “I made the commitment that my children needed something, and I was going to find out what that was.”
Chip and Louis began figuring out what services existed in their community, “If there’s a service out there… we’ve used it,” Chip explained. They educated themselves about their children’s needs and were able to provide the supports needed: therapy, behavioral services, in-school help, the list goes on.
As they were settling into their new normal, the couple was approached by their social worker. “We were a happy-go-lucky family. Then we got a call from our social worker that Malcolm and Megan’s biological mother had a baby,” Chip said. The family opened their home again and welcomed two-week-old, Cody.
The process to adopt Cody came with many hurdles to jump. He spent only a few months in the LaRiviere home before going to his biological family’s home with the goal of reunification. At the same time, a young girl, Tara, was placed in the LaRiviere’s home with the understanding that she would be there for one month. “Tara was supposed to be a month placement and never left,” said Chip. Several months later, Cody was also placed back with the LaRiviere’s.
Chip and Louis made the conscious decision to persevere through the difficulties of each adoption. The first years were some of the hardest, as the family had to learn to navigate needs they didn’t realize their children required. “All the work I’ve put into my children is so rewarding,” explained Chip. “For my son, Malcolm, to say, ‘I know my dad loves me and he will never leave me’ is huge. We didn’t give in. We stood by him and that’s how we did it.”
Chip continues to be involved in the foster and adoption community. He speaks at MAPP classes and Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE) events, and makes an effort to educate other parents on the services that exist in their own communities. Chip always tries to make one thing clear to prospective parents, “People need to understand that these children don’t need to be fixed.”
He and his family hope that by sharing their story, they can help others understand the realities of adoption from foster care. “It’s a lot of work and we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” Chip lamented, “but I wouldn’t change my family for anything.”