Cassie Mitvalsky did not expect to become a single mother when she agreed to take care of a baby in foster care for a week.
A social worker, 24-years-old at the time, she had just finished classes to be certified as a foster parent. When baby Landyn came to stay, she scrambled to find childcare so she could go to work the next day.
But at the end of the week, when Landyn ended up needing a longer placement, she couldn’t bring herself to say no. She eventually adopted him, and later, she adopted her son Tavius, another foster child who had come to live with her. That was seven years ago.
“It’s hard. It’s really hard,” she said. “But I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t do anything differently. I think I was supposed to end up with these kids.”
Though the goal is to reunite foster children with their biological families, sometimes that isn’t possible. Tavius became one of hundreds of older Iowa children in need of a new “forever home.”
November is National Adoption Month, and local adoption advocates said they want Iowans to realize how many children, especially children who are no longer babies or toddlers, are in need of homes.
Tavius was five when he arrived at Mitvalsky’s house late one winter night. He hadn’t eaten that evening. He didn’t have a toothbrush or any clothes but what he was wearing. He had a coat, but no boots, mittens, or hat. Mitvalsky took him on an emergency run to the store as she figured out how to get him to school the next day.
She said she didn’t plan for her family to grow again, but like with Landyn, when the time came, she couldn’t find it within herself to send Tavius away. His adoption was finalized when he was nine, three years ago.
“There are a lot of really different kinds of families. It shouldn’t really matter how they came to be a family,” she said. “What’s important is they have a home, have a brother, have a family who loves them.”
According to the Iowa Department of Human Services, as of August there were around 6,300 kids in the foster care system in Iowa, and over 600 Iowa children legally eligible for adoption. The average wait time before being adopted is five years.
The older a child is, the harder their chances of finding an adoptive family become, said Kara Magnison, a post adoption supervisor at Iowa Kidsnet.
“One of the biggest myths we get is when there’s a teenager in foster care, they came in through some fault of their own. But most of them are here because of parental issues,” she said. “They’re normal kids. They need someone to take them to football practice and show up to their school plays.”
There is also a persistent need for more foster families. Magnison said they try to keep children in their own cities, and to keep sibling groups together, but that’s not alway possible due to the limitations of available foster families.
“We need African-American homes, Latino homes, Native American homes,” she said. “We need anybody who’s willing to have a child in their lives.”
Nationally about 23,000 children turn 18 each year and age out of the foster care system without being adopted, without having a family they can turn to for support and love as they enter the adult world.
One of the children who aged out of the system was Jolene Salehoglu, now 30-years-old. When she was 18, she met Cedar Rapids couple Lana and Greg Kelsey, who saw she was struggling to make ends meet and offered her a place to stay. She stayed with them for two years while attending school at Kirkwood Community College.
When she was 28, the Kelseys officially adopted her. She was married and had a child of her own at that point, but that didn’t diminish her desire for the stability of calling someone “mom” and “dad.”
“No matter what age you are, you always want someone to be a parent. You want a place to go for the holidays, someone to go to if you need something,” Lana Kelsey said. “No matter what age you are, you always want a forever family.”
To learn more about foster care and adoption, visit http://www.iowakidsnet.com/.