As I look back on the last 2 ½ months, I can’t believe how many experiences I have had and people I have met because of my title of Miss Teenage Southwestern Ontario 2018. The biggest blessing for me has been to be able to partner with Children’s Aid Society (CAS) of Windsor- Essex County. When I approached CAS, they seemed to be confused and not sure what to do with me. They looked surprised that a young teen would take the initiative to want to partner with them. Emails started being sent around to various departments and ideas started to be brainstormed.
As I started having more meetings at CAS, with different individuals, the enthusiasm started to grow. As it turns out, when I approached CAS, they were in the process of creating an awareness campaign on the desperate need for foster and adoptive homes, which is what I want to focus on as my platform. The other interesting fact is that the CAS Youth Advisory Committee fundraises for ME to WE, which is the same organization that as a finalist for Miss Teenage Canada, I must fundraise for. I helped the CAS Youth Advisory Council with a lemonade stand and bake sale as a fundraiser for ME to WE. It seems that this is a match made in Heaven. My mom always says that everything happens for a reason and to trust God and how life unfolds.
As I started on this journey, I didn’t realize how public my life would become and the risks that I would be taking. On August 8th, I was interviewed by CTV-Windsor at the CAS building. The piece focused on the desperate need for foster homes in the Windsor-Essex community. We have 150 foster homes right now, with 150 service homes, and 477 kids in care. CAS likes to only place 2 children in a home but right now, they are placing up to 4 children which is the maximum they are allowed. Because of the lack of foster homes, 42 children from our community had to be placed outside our region. In my meetings with CAS, I have learnt that this is a common trend that CAS is facing, not just in our community, but across Ontario and across Canada.
After the interview, there were so many people who called or emailed my mom and other family members regarding my interview. Suddenly, I realized how public my story became. I didn’t think that many people watched the news, but I guess they do. Now a lot of people in my community know I am adopted. My parents have always been open with my brother, my sister and I about our adoption and have always been willing to answer questions.
There is a stigma that comes from being adopted but my parents never allowed us to feel that stigma. They made it sound very special and important. For my parents, adoption wasn’t a necessity, it was a want. Their original plan was to adopt 1 boy between the age of 6 to 8 and then have a baby of their own, to kind of close the gap with their 11-year-old birth son. They never imagined that the social worker would present 3 kids. They did a lot of praying and soul searching and decided to take the risk to adopt us and I am glad they did. They gave me a second chance at a better life. Because of the adoption, my mom had to give up the idea of having another birth child because 4 kids were enough to handle.
My parents felt they wanted to both have birth children and adopt because they wanted to make a difference in another child’s life and a difference they sure did make in the lives of 3 children. Fostering and adoption are so important. It gives kids more opportunities and the possibility of a second chance at a better life. There are many reasons why birth parents give up children. In my case, it was a teenage pregnancy.
Parenting is a lot of work and when you add foster kids or adoptive kids, it can even become more complicated. I saw what my parents went through with us but in the end, they kept us and loved us. I was taken when I was 6 months old and adopted at 3 ½ years old. I went through 6 different foster homes before finding me a forever home. My mom thought that I would be a safe bet along with my 2 ½-year-old sister because we were both young and she thought we wouldn’t remember anything. Did we fool her!!
My sister wasn’t too bad. The only problem with her was separation anxiety. With me it was a totally different story. I guess the moves had affected me and my 6-year-old brother. We did some damage to the house such as peeling wallpaper off walls and punching holes. My mom started doing lots of reading and trying to understand children’s behaviours even though she had been a mom for 11 years. She once told me that a report she read said that the parents chosen for us 3 kids had to have sophisticated parenting skills. Until we moved in, she didn’t know what that meant, but she sure learned fast. It is a normal behaviour for kids to try to break things or cause chaos because it is their defense mechanism. They have been rejected too many times that they try to behave badly so the family can ask them to leave before they have the opportunity to bond and get hurt again. No matter what horible things we did, my parents kept us. My mom always tells me how grateful she is that CAS provided her with social workers that taught her how to parent children who had been in the foster care system.
Today my brother, sister and I are healthy, well-rounded individuals with our own passions. My 18-year-old brother just graduated high school and will be going to college. He is an athlete who especially loves badminton and soccer. He made the city senior all-star soccer team for the Greater Essex District School Board this year and last year competed at OFSAA for badminton. My little sister did competitive gymnastics for a couple of years and I am now entering pageants and getting involved in my community and trying to make a difference in people’s lives. I also like to play sports and love to be a goalie in soccer.
Fostering and adopting are both very important and can change lives as it has changed ours. That is why for me, it is so important to speak up on the importance of fostering and adopting. After the CTV interview, I realized that I have taken a risk of my birth family finding out my last name and where I live, as well as, everyone knowing my story. If I can change one life, then I guess the risk was worth taking. Last year there were over 240 foster homes in the Windsor area, now we are down to 150. There are many reasons why we are losing the homes. Some are bittersweet: people who have fostered for 30 years are now retiring and some are stressed and need a break. This trend is seen across Canada.
I have learned through the meetings I have had with CAS that there is a lot of misconceptions or misinformation out there on who can be a foster or adoptive parent. I will be going through training and information sessions so that I can understand the system better and when I am in public, I can deliver the correct information and hopefully delete some misconceptions from our culture. I want to be the voice of CAS and make sure that through my public appearances I can talk about the importance of fostering and adopting and how that can change and rewrite the story of a child as my story was re-written. Many people are shocked when they find out that they can be single, or professional or older to be able to help.
As I continue my year, I am looking forward to continuing to work with CAS and to make a difference in my community and in the lives of children.
I believe that it is not blood that makes you family, but love. My mom always tells me that I didn’t grow in her belly, but I grew in her heart and she loves me to the moon and back.
If you like more information on adoption you can go to www.adoption.ca
Love, Tia – Miss Teenage Southwestern Ontario 2018