Often seen as outsiders themselves, LGBT people can bring compassion and awareness to those children needing it most within our foster care system. Though it helps to keep an open mind; sometimes our created families are not what we initially envisioned, but end up being just what we needed. This was the case with Rich Vaughn, who welcomed two children into his life and gained a partner in the process.
After volunteering for a group of prospective gay dads, Rich Valenza co-founded and became Executive Director of the non-profit organization, RaiseAChild, which helps primarily LGBT people become foster/adoptive parents. He is also the father of two foster-to-adopt children.
We believe every child deserves a safe, loving, and permanent home. So what we do is encourage the LGBT community to build families, through fostering and adopting, to answer the needs of the 400,000 children in the foster care system in our nation.
I kind of feel that as LGBT people, most all of us have experienced some kind of disconnect from our own families, some kind of disconnect from our communities, and we’ve all bee—not all of us, but a good majority of us, have this feeling and experience in common with one another. And so I kind of relate that, somehow, to children in the foster care system, who have had real loss in their lives.
So you know, another message I have for people in this process is—you think you have the perfect image of what your family is going to look like. You may have had that same perfect image of what your partner would look like, or be like. And life doesn’t always turn out the way we have imagined. I know when I was presented with my children, I had told everybody that I was open to either sex; I was open to any race; and I wanted one child, between two and four. And my caseworker, when he finally called, he said, “Rich, I think I have a match for you. It’s not exactly what you were hoping for.” I said, “Okay. What is it?” And he said, “Well it’s not one child; it’s two. They’re siblings, and we don’t want to separate them. And they are—you said up to four, but these children are four and five.” And I said, “Yeah, let’s move forward with this.”
The first moment I met my kids, I went with my caseworker to the foster mother’s home. And we sat and talked with her, and it was very awkward, of course, at first. And then she said, “Well, I imagine you want to meet the children.” And it was like, “Yeah.” And so she called them out from a bedroom. And they were like two fawns—very unsure, very thin, very—like wondering what was going on. We sat down together on the floor, and I asked my son if—because he was wearing this firefighter hat, if he wanted to be a fireman. And he said, “Yes.” And we grabbed the red fire truck, a plastic fire truck that he had, and we started playing. And my daughter joined in. And we—you know, the fears all melted, and we started on this path of building something together, right there.
There’s the concern people have about bonding with foster and adoptive children. And you know, I’m sure there are all kinds of cases out there. But I think what any of us want in any kind of relationship is to know that we’re safe, is to know that we’re loved. And as soon as you can establish that with whoever it is, the faster you’re gonna get to that point where there is, you know, confidence, and people can relax—and very much so with children from the foster system.
So when I went through the process, and I finally got two children placed in my home. As a gay man, as a single man, I kind of thought I’d never have another date in my life. And actually, kind of the opposite happened. I don’t know—I think that for me, having kids, I felt more complete, because I had this longing to have children. And so I’ve heard from people, that, you know, it kind of gives you more of a confidence, and more of a sense of settlement in your life. And to a number of people, that’s rather attractive, I think.
So my family now consists of my partner, Jarod, who I met about the time that I finalized with the kids. And you know, he and I were dating, and I think we went for about four months before I actually introduced him to the children, because I wanted to make sure that he and I were somewhat solid in the relationship first. And I think my kids, like, when they met him, just kind of opened up right away, and accepted him into the family.
We like to hike together, or we get into some pretty aggressive badminton tournaments in our backyard, too. And that’s fun. That’s a lot of fun.
So my daughter, from the first day I met her, has a big personality. And she is feisty, and she has certainly her own personality, her own thoughts. This summer, she told me she wanted to sewing lessons. So for her birthday, then, we got her a sewing machine, and she’s trying different things out with that.
My son is all about reading—loves to read. Science is his favorite subject at school. He does fencing. He loves riding his bike in the neighborhood. And he’s a very empathetic young man.
When I adopted my two kids, and they went into first grade, one thing in the State of California that all first graders seem to do, is they have an assignment where they have to build their family tree. And for kids in the foster care system, or that have been adopted, that’s a challenge, and it’s a big challenge for the parents. So you know, I shared with my children as much as I knew about their biological parents. But I also tried really hard in those first couple months to build new memories of our new family. So in my case, one of the things I wanted to impart on my kids is a love for travel. And so that summer, we went to a number of places around the country; a number of places locally. And I took pictures, so that when they had to build their family tree, it was very interesting, because the tree had a lot of branches. And on one side was the biological history that they knew about. And on the other side was the adoptive history that they understood. And the interesting thing is the base of the tree was very large, to support the two. And I think that honesty with children, and honesty with ourselves, is important to be not only the best parent you can be, but to put together the best family that you can put together, as well.
There are people that we’ve met that say, “Well, I have a dog,” or, “Two dogs,” or, “Two cats.” And, “You know, I would love to help a child, but I don’t know that I have it in me. I don’t know that I have the support.” And first of all, I would like to say to those people that you would be surprised with what you have inside of you. And when you do open your heart, and you have a child who is looking for that kind of support, you find the resources within yourself. You find those resources.