After taking in kids a dozen times over the years only to lose them, Stephanie Acosta and Micki Stokes were finally able to adopt Josie
A dozen times over the last 12 years, Stephanie Acosta and Micki Stokes have gotten a phone call to take one, two or three children into their home.
And each time, they responded by taking the children no matter what time of day or night.
But each time those children were taken back from them. Usually relatives were found who agreed to raise the children. One child they were in the process of adopting was reunited with a sibling in another adoptive family at the last minute.
Then came Josie.
“She’s one hot mess,” Stokes said.
And she was lucky number 13.
The couple picked up Josie from the hospital, where she’d been abandoned by her mother, and brought her home at four days old.
From the beginning they knew Josie would have problems. She was born with a drug addiction and other problems stemming from the birth mother’s lack of prenatal care. She’s mildly autistic with slight cerebral palsy. As an infant, she had trouble holding her head up. Breathing problems were caused by narrow passages that tonsils blocked. A problem in the vertebrae formation may cause headaches later on.
But Stokes and Acosta and their daughter Madisson, now 16, welcomed Josie into their family by taking her to pediatric specialists, geneticists and speech therapists — and they began adoption proceedings as fast as they could.
The couple first began working with the foster system a year after their 1999 civil union.
They became certified for respite care in 2000 to help a friend who was fostering three or four children at a time. Fully certifying as foster parents took a year.
They said that a lot of what they learned in their classes had to do with how foster kids can’t be treated like other children because of a variety of psychological issues.
“As punishment, normally, you would send your child to their bedroom,” Acosta said. “You can’t do that to a foster child. They’re psychologically different.”
She said because of the abuse that many foster children have endured, locking them in a room could be seen as imprisonment. She said you can’t send a child away from the table without eating. Many come into foster care after being starved. Spanking is forbidden because of the severe beatings many foster children have suffered.
Acosta said she always wanted to be a mother. Stokes already had a daughter, but knew she wanted more children. Madisson has been an important part of caring for the foster children they’ve taken into their house. She said she felt the loss of each child as deeply as her moms did.
Giving up the first foster child in their care was emotionally exhausting, Stokes said.
“We missed school and work,” she said. “Our families were distraught.”
The Texas foster system, which the couple calls among the best in the country, doesn’t allow children to languish. During the first six months of placement, Child Protective Services searches for relatives to take the child. The goal is to keep family, or at least siblings, together.
The first child in their care had been with them six months, so Acosta and Stokes began the adoption process. Although no adult family members were found to take the child, a couple in Fort Worth who had adopted a sibling was found. The child was placed there to keep family together.
Devastated, Acosta and Stokes took a short break and reassessed what they were doing.
“After the pain subsided, we realized that’s not why we’re doing this,” Stokes said.
They realized they were fostering to help children, not to fulfill their own needs.
“In Texas, it’s not about the parents,” Stokes said. “It’s about the best interests of the child.”
It’s unusual for Texas to rank above other states, especially on issues related to healthcare or LGBT equality. But Acosta and Stokes tell everyone who will listen that Texas is a great place for gay and lesbian singles and couples to foster children.
“And if you have a child with a disability, the state of Texas is the best place to be,” Stokes said, because of the services offered and the assistance given to foster and adoptive parents.
After Josie’s adoption was final, Stokes decided to go back to law school. She spent a year at OU but couldn’t find any services for Josie in
Oklahoma. Scottish Rite Hospital in Oak Lawn accepted her as a patient and the couple moved to Irving, across the street from Stokes’ parents.
“Throughout the process, CASA held our hand,” she said.
CASA is Court Appointed Special Advocates, volunteers who represent the interests of abused and neglected children in custody cases so they don’t get lost in the legal system.
More than 700,000 children go through the foster system each year so CASA volunteers are only appointed to the most difficult cases.
“Every child deserves to be safe,” CASA Dallas spokesman Katy Seitzler said.
And safe doesn’t mean placement only with heterosexually married couples in Texas.
Seitzler said Texas has no problem with single parent fostering and adoptions, or with gay and lesbian parents.
“We’re just looking for good parents,” she said.
She said they’re also looking for more CASA volunteers.
Volunteers are asked to commit one year, because that’s generally the jurisdiction the court has in foster cases. By the end of a year, a child should have either been placed with other family members or into the adoption process.
CASA volunteers attend court hearings and monitor the process to make recommendations that are in the best interests of the child.
CASA program director Mary Timmons said, “We’re looking for people who love kids and want to make a permanent home for kids.”
She said the sexual orientation of the parents is not something CPS looks at.
“The law is clear,” she said. “You can’t do that. And anyone who wants what’s best for kids shouldn’t do that.”
She said that CASA is also looking for volunteers who want to make a difference in a child’s life.
That requires 30 hours of training and then volunteers work with a staff supervisor. During a year’s assignment, a volunteer works more than 10 hours a month for the first few months and then about five hours a month until the child is permanently placed.
While not all children placed by CPS have physical problems, many do have emotional problems. CPS knows that gays and lesbians are more likely to take children with a variety of problems and encourages LGBT people who would like to become parents to contact them.
Medicaid and other resources are available to help defray the costs of caring for these children, but Stokes and Acosta warned that despite all the resources, and the stipend received while fostering, no one should go into foster parenting thinking they’ll make money.
Doctors warned them Josie might never talk or walk — or even develop teeth.
At 4, Josie not only walks, but runs and plays. She also has teeth and is beginning to talk, all with the help of an array of specialists.
Despite the problems, Acosta and Stokes would have it no other way.
“I grew up Catholic and always wanted a traditional family,” Acosta said. “We’re a very traditional family. Both of our families are very involved.”
And now the couple is thinking of getting re-certified for foster care and opening their home to more children.
Seitzler said she can’t think of a better home to place another child.
Helping children in need
• Court Appointed Special Advocates
To become a CASA volunteer, go to DallasCASA.org, click on “volunteer” for a list of information sessions. Call 214-827-9603 ext. 228 to register.
• Texas Child Protective Services
To become a foster parent through CPS or a private agency, go to tinyurl.com/cdrqdzk. On this Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website, download an information packet, find a schedule of information meetings and a list of private agencies that work in conjunction with DFPS. Dallas and Fort Worth are in Region 3.
• Report child abuse
Know of any child abuse? Report it by calling 800-252-5400.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 27, 2012.