(Photo credit: Keri Vellis)
Eleven years ago, author Keri Vellis’ husband came home with a heartbreaking story.
Ted was a law enforcement official, and he had been called into a home where a 10-month-old had drowned. The child’s parent had a substance abuse problem and had not been watching them.
Keri knew that raising awareness of the situation was not enough. She wanted to use her home as a safe place for children to stay.
Keri was a mother of three at the time, including one infant. Once her youngest child was in kindergarten, she felt ready to open her home up to foster children.
Keri’s first placement was a sibling set of two who had been severely abused and neglected. In fact, she was told it was the worst case the county had seen in over 13 years.
Keri was determined to get her new children everything they needed. She took them to the dentist and got speech and play therapies for them. One of her children needed 72 therapy sessions in one month.
“PTSD doesn’t just go away,” she told Adoption.com. “It is still real, and kids need to work through it.”
Keri was able to adopt the sibling group two-and-a-half years later. She has since fostered over 19 children, from newborns to teenagers.
“It’s important to think about where the biological parents are coming from,” she said. “We want our foster kids to feel comfortable reaching out to us and maintaining a relationship with us—even if they don’t stay. They have blessed us, and we are here to advocate for them.”
One Christmas Eve, the Vellis family got a call from the hospital to take in a child for emergency foster care. The nurses asked her if she was the adoptive mother. Keri turned to her husband and said, “Honey, what do you think?”
The child she fostered at 2 days old became her own one-and-a-half years later. Keri is now the mother of six children, ages 18, 16, 12, 11, 9, and 4. Her older three children are biological, and her younger three are adopted.
Keri was amazed that many of the routines most children take for granted were new to children from foster care. Family dinners, outdoor playtime, and daily toothbrushing were a welcome change.
Keri noticed a real lack of children’s books available to help children understand adoption and foster care. She decided to write some to help her own children, as well as those in similar situations, make peace with their new lives.
Her first book, Sometimes, is about how children may not be able to stay where they live and have to find new families. It follows the story of a timid foster child with a teddy bear who is adjusting to a new home. The book is designed to help children feel comforted and safe along their journey.
For the story, Keri collaborated with illustrator Jin Lehr, who was a foster child herself. Having aged out to the system, Jin knew firsthand the raw emotions experienced by children who were constantly shifting through homes. In fact, she had been to 11 different schools in 10 years! Jin Lehr found comfort in her artwork, which was encouraged by social workers, family, and friends. She is now the mother to her own growing family in Sonoma County.
Keri is also the author of When I Was Little, a story for children who have experienced abuse and trauma. It follows their emotions and teaches them to share difficult feelings with trusted adults. The book focuses on foster care, emotion, and child safety. Children who experience domestic abuse often feel alone. When I Was Little is a book designed to help little ones find peace, comfort, and understanding.
Keri’s books are beautifully illustrated and used by social service agencies, law enforcement agencies, daycare centers, and schools.
She is currently working on her autobiography, entitled, Saving Michael: Rescuing a “Throwaway” Child. It provides ideas for powerful tools and resources for foster parents.
On January 26, 2018, Keri was invited to The Ellen DeGeneres Show honoring those who had shown “a million acts of good” for Ellen’s 60th birthday. On that day, Ellen presented everyone in the audience with $1 million to split! It was with that money that Keri was able to fund her first book, as well as her nonprofit organization, Keri’s Kids.
Keri’s Kids is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing empowering and comforting books to at-risk children. They provide solace and safety for children from challenging situations. Keri’s books can be found in county agencies, hospitals, law enforcement centers, and nonprofits. As a nonprofit organization itself, all of the proceeds from Keri’s Kids go directly toward the distribution of books to the children.
Organizations may offer to contribute at various levels of book purchasing. Keri has been a guest on her local ABC and Fox News programs. She was interviewed by Katie Couric, National Women’s Magazine, and Sonoma Family Life.
Keri visits classrooms often, where she talks about foster placement and adoption. Her talks are compassionate and engaging. She specializes in topics like foster care, abuse, trauma, attachment, PTSD, and childhood sexual abuse.
Adopting From Foster Care
There are currently over 428,000 children in foster care throughout the United States. Over 114,000 kids are waiting to be adopted. More than 135,000 kids are adopted each year in the United States. Over 60 percent of the children in foster care spend two to five years waiting to be adopted. Some are never adopted and age out of the system. In fact, more than 23,000 kids will age out of foster care each year.
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, Of those children who age out, 20 percent will instantly become homeless. Only half of them will be gainfully employed by the age of 24. Less than 3 percent of them will learn a college degree. “…[Seven] out of 10 girls who age out of the system will become pregnant before the age of 21,” according to the NFYI website.
Folks like Keri Vellis realize the need for adoptive parents within our country. Over 25 percent of the children in foster care are suffering from PTSD and are desperate for loving, stable environments where they can heal.
Most of the children in foster care who are already available for adoption are between the ages of 3 and 21. The median age is 8. Many of the children in foster care have “special needs.” This may mean that children are older, of a particular racial or ethnic background, part of a sibling group that needs to be adopted together, or have medical conditions. Adopting from foster care is extremely affordable, and any costs associated with it are often subsidized by the state.
In families where both parents work full-time, older children can be a good option because they are in school full-time. They also make great additions to families where there already are older children because they will start off as equal members of the family with shared privileges and responsibilities.
Adopting sibling groups can be beneficial because children already come with their own support system. A part of their past is now part of their present, and feelings of fear and anxiety can be moderated. Children who are adopted along with their brothers and sisters have been known to make less failed placements, fewer moves, and have many emotional benefits. If you have always dreamed of having a larger family, adopting siblings can be a great way to shower your love on more than one child and keep kids connected to their biological families.
Adopting children of a different race or nationality provides you with a unique opportunity to help children get in touch with multiple cultures at an early age. It expands their worldview significantly and allows them to celebrate multiple languages and holidays. You and your child with both have an opportunity to understand and embrace diversity. Children adopted transracially will also begin exploring their identity at an early age, giving them a solid sense of self before most children begin to wrestle with their identity.
If you are interested in adopting a child under 3 years old, you may want to look into fostering before adopting. Infants are a growing number of first-time entrants into the system, and more than half are adopted by their foster parents. Your social worker may be able to help you identify children who are more likely to become available for adoption in the future. They cannot, however, guarantee that birth parent rights will be terminated. There are often stipends available to help you meet the needs of foster children through services such as therapy and tutoring. These funds may be available even after the adoption is complete.
Folks like Keri Vellis expertly helped many children who were living in foster care transition into permanent homes, or back into their biological parents. If you feel led to mentor and prepare children for a healthier, more stable future, then foster care may be a wonderful option for you.
Who Can Adopt From Foster Care?
Perfection is not a requirement for becoming a foster or adoptive parent. You do not need to be married, wealthy, or a stay-at-home parent. You do, however, need to be over 21 years old and have an income large enough to support yourself. Your child will need their own room, and you will need to be emotionally stable.
One of the most important qualities foster and adoptive parents can have is flexibility. You will need to learn lots of new parenting techniques, as traditional disciplinary methods are not often effective with children who have been abused or traumatized. Books like Keri’s can help your child to begin talking about troubling past experiences or fears. Remember that your child may not open up about their struggles at once. It is a matter of waiting for the right moments and encouraging kids to share only what they are comfortable sharing.
You will need to be willing to cooperate with the child welfare system, biological family, and welfare workers. In all things, patience, compassion, and understanding are key.
How Can I Adopt From Foster Care?
Some states have dual-licensing systems, where you can apply to become a foster and adoptive parent at the same time. This will help streamline the process if your child becomes available for adoption. Some states still have separate tracks for foster care and adoption through foster care.
You will need to complete a home study, in which you will be interviewed both inside and outside of your home. A foster parent’s home does not need to be a palace! What it does need to be is a relatively clean, welcoming, and organized environment for raising a child.
You will also need to get background checks that will clear you for child abuse and a criminal record. There will also be a physical examination to ensure that you are in good health. Adoptive and foster parents will need to take at least 24 to 30 hours of classes in parenting training. You will practice and learn effective strategies for correcting and encouraging children from abusive situations. These will allow you to help children improve their own communication skills, as well as help you to bond with them on a deeper level.
Once you have become approved to adopt, you will be allowed to look on photolistings and express an interest in different children or sibling groups. You can even search the photolistings in other states. The child’s social worker will provide you with more information if it seems like a good fit. Finally, you can begin meeting with your child. Teachers, social workers, and counselors will provide you with as much information as they can, so you will know exactly what kinds of services you will need to secure for your child.
At last, you can bring your child home to live with your family. Homey touches, like teddy bears, paintings, and games, will let them know you are excited to have them. Books like Keri’s will provide a great framework to help your child begin working out their problems. Therapy, school resources, and houses of worship are also great supportive resources.
Bridging The Gap
Women like Keri Vellis are critical in helping to repair the world of children who have been abused or neglected. While you may not be able to change every life, the work of each of us making a difference in the life of one child is a great place to start.