Foster Care Stories: Profile of a Foster Child
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY. Tens of thousands of children in this country live in foster care hoping for a permanent home. Yesterday, we profiled a social worker who grew up in the system. Today, a happy ending for a young girl who spent 10 years in foster care. Reporter Gloria Hillard was on hand for the long-awaited adoption ceremony in a Los Angeles courtroom.
Unidentified Woman #1: Sit wherever you can sit. Stand if you want to stand.
GLORIA HILLARD: The first thing you notice in this courtroom is the giant, white, stuffed bear in the corner. It's a place not unfamiliar to the smiling 13-year-old girl, her arms folded on the table. She sits before a judge who remembers the first day Shayla was in this courtroom, at the age of 3.
Unidentified Woman #2 (Judge): We've waited a long time to do this, and believe me, there's not going to be any hitches.
HILLARD: After 10 years in what would seem like lifetimes to a child, this long-anticipated moment, the adoption ceremony, takes only minutes.
Unidentified Woman #2 (Judge): …and shall be regarded and treated in all respects as their own daughter. They shall (unintelligible) toward the child, and the child…
HILLARD: Shayla says she has been thinking of this day since she was 8. Kids in the system grow up fast, and Shayla is no exception. It's a life of not knowing, one month to the next, where your home will be, and Shayla has had how many?
SHAYLA: Um, like 22, 23? But you think of like, okay, well, maybe I'm going on to bigger and better things. It's like maybe the next family will be better than this one, like maybe they'll - maybe there's just something better.
HILLARD: For Shayla, that day occurred in March of this year, when her social worker, Cynthia Young(ph), set up a meeting at a shopping mall with a prospective family. Young says Shayla's courage after so many years of disappointments was inspiring.
Ms. CYNTHIA YOUNG (Social Worker): I admire her for being able to call me back after we met this family, and she said they're the ones.
HILLARD: Waiting at the mall that day were Kenneth and Suzanne Bjork(ph), a professional couple with a grown daughter in law school and 7-year-old Megan(ph), who they adopted three years ago.
Mr. KENNETH BJORK (Adoptive Father to Shayla): Shayla was being a little shy, and then we sent Megan over to meet her, and…
Mrs. SUZANNE BJORK (Adoptive Mother to Shayla): …and then we just followed.
Mr. BJORK: And we followed. We let the little one do the introductions.
SHAYLA: Something told me just take a chance for once, so I took the chance.
HILLARD: No small thing for a foster child, taking a chance.
SHAYLA: When you're in foster care, you become stronger because, like, you learn how to, like, fight through the hard times and just, like, OK, well, it happened, so what's happening tomorrow?
HILLARD: Shayla says for as long as she dreamed of having a family, she has also dreamed of being a singer.
SHAYLA: I want to, like, inspire people to, like, pursue their dreams, just like keep going and, like, go for it.
HILLARD: It's a dream ironically inspired by the mother who gave her up when she was 3. One of the last things Shayla remembers about her is the songs she used to sing.
SHAYLA: One of the songs was “Spread My Wings and Fly.” Touch the sky, yeah…
HILLARD: And helping her to do that now, her new mother, in a plum-colored suit, sounding as if she has always known that about her.
Mrs. BJORK: She's been singing all her life. She's working on it. She's going to be a star one day.
HILLARD: And back in the courtroom…
Unidentified Woman #2: …and it is further declared that the child is a member of the Bjork family with all the rights and responsibilities attached thereto. Congratulations.
HILLARD: For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.