The Story of Zach.

Happy 9th Birthday, Zach!

I have been working on writing Zach's adoption story for a long time. I have had a writing block. I haven't had the words. I can't really describe why, but I know now that I can begin to process and share what exactly our family has been through. His own story will be one he writes someday so I still will not disclose traumatic things that happened to him early in life.

Many have walked this daily with me and for that I am eternally grateful. You have been the hands and feet of Christ to me. Others have made our path more difficult. And to that, I say, I harbor no anger. In fact, all it did was motivate me more to help my son and find answers and blaze a path for him. So, I actually thank you, in a way, for helping me channel my passion to something greater. 

What people may not know about me is that I was a Criminal Justice major and have extreme passion for children. Maybe that has to do with my struggle in having my own family, but either way, I fight for kids. And I fight because it's how I was born.

My first experience in justice is kind of funny, but will let you know the intensity I have. My identity was stolen 7 years ago. Most people might cancel cards and move on. But, I was mad. And wanted to stop the person who was doing it. I called, researched, and investigated my own identity theft case. Because of a phone number that was on an application I found where someone tried to open an account, I traced them down. I found their address. I made contact. I worked with police and they were able to actually make 2 arrests in one of the largest criminal identity theft cases. It was a couple where the wife stole patients social security numbers at the hospital while they were having a baby. And the husband was stealing the social security numbers of deceased people at his place of employment. I was happy to be apart of finding them, ending this, and restoring peoples documents. So, don't steal with my purse, and after reading this, maybe don't mess with my kid :)

Here is the Story of Zach. Happy 9th Birthday, buddy. You sure are special.
 We love you and you have taught us to love as a verb.

We prayerful­­ly went down the road of adoption because we wanted to grow our family. We we­­r­­­e a family that experienced a lot of loss having children. We have 2 biological that are currently 9 and 6.  Today, had our other pregnancies worked out, we would have also had two 8 year old twins, the fraternal twin of my 6 year old, a 5 year old, and a 4 year old.  Many ­­families experience these types of losses, and for us, it is part of our story that we like to share. It is the journey which led us to adoption.
After taking some time to really decide this was what we were going to do, we decided we would probably go through the state to find local older children that were in need of a family. We began about a one year process of training, meetings, paperwork, home studies, interviews, and preparation to be matched with a child. Upon completion, we were receiving calls about children in need. It was during this time we saw Zach on the Wednesday’s Child website. We were immediately drawn to him because he looked very much like our own biological son and was only 6 weeks apart in age.  We submitted our home study for him because we were not able to stop thinking about him.
Two months later, we got the phone call that we matched with him and we would be able to meet him! We were so excited and also very nervous. This was also the time that we started to learn about Zach’s child life history. I don’t think any amount of training can prepare you for reading some of these files about where a child has been that’s in the system. He had an unthinkable past full of neglect and abuse. He had been placed in a group home and we really weren’t sure what that even meant. He had a box full of things that we were told were wrong with him and too many diagnoses to count.  We decided to step out in faith and meet this child in person. The one statement that I clung to was that it didn’t seem fair to diagnosis or predict where a child was when they had never had a family or been in a stable environment. We had to meet him.
We were shocked to discover where he was living. It was a medically fragile group home, yet to our discovery, Zach had no medical needs. It was full of about 7 children with a rotation of staff and Zach had been there for 4 years. We immediately knew after seeing where he had been, that we were right. There was no shot at Zach ever having a normal life ahead of him if he stayed there, we had to get him out.  Many would think our process would have been easier getting him quickly placed into our home since he was technically a legal orphan. But, that was not the case. We found that Zach had 5 case workers and locating files and contacting someone felt like a goose chase. The lady running this group home in North Georgia lived nowhere near it. She resided in her older age in Atlanta, over an hour away from the group home she was running.  We had little cooperation communicating and setting up a timeline on moving Zach out and found this disturbing. We made reports to our local DFCS and later found out the home was closed and the remaining children were placed into foster homes.
The day finally came, December 4, when we brought him home. It was clear that we needed to hunker down and get ready for the ride. We quickly saw Zach was almost like an international adoption, in the sense he had no idea about social norms and what was going on. Other things we noticed were that he had not been taken out into public much, did not attend a general education classroom style classroom, didn’t know his birthday, had no basic self care skills or training, would have fell into the classification of “non verbal”, did not have a concept of family life or schedule. His diet was very limited so every food was new to him.  He had no idea we were a family unit so going places I was a nervous wreck because he would constantly walk off. Overwhelmed was the best word to describe this phase.
We quickly were amazed at the rapid change in him. From just moving him into a house and a family we saw a little bit of life come into him. Then, as we established nutrition, sleep, exercise, and a schedule, we were able to start teaching him independent self care skills. He quickly did all of these.  His language started immerging and as it did, the behaviors started going away since he could express what he needed. Month to month, the changes were unbelievable. Every day that passed, we witnessed more glimpses of the child inside him that just needed love, stability, and a home.
Our biggest challenge was sending our special needs child to our home school. After enrolling him, we started this new journey of experiencing what IEP meetings were like. We were quickly not welcomed in and experienced a lot of resistance from our administration at the time and even parents at the school. Fear is the only word I can think of to describe it. No one seemed to want to learn or provide the resources our new son needed to go to his home school. We were told that there weren’t kids like him at our school and the kept recommending we place him somewhere else. It was during this time we decided we would fight for Zach. He had never had anyone do that for him before. We were going to put an end to him being a product of the system. It had failed him. We recognized our son had needs and was different, but we also saw his speed of recovery and improvement and believed in him. We knew he could do it and be in general education with the right people and supports.  Soon after us deciding to stay, we experienced very poor treatment from our home school.  Zach was treated unfairly and harmed at school. We were never shocked by any actions from Zach, but constantly shocked at the behavior of the adults involved. We again, dug our heels in and threw our anchor out. We weren’t going anywhere. We hired an advocate and educational attorney to intervene and help our son with his rights.

Because of our outside help, our dedication to Zach, and mostly Zach’s strength and spirit that is overcoming every label he has ever had, we are in a triumphant position. We now have inclusion classrooms in our home school with full time special education teachers co-teaching and para professional help. We have people and administration now on board with inclusion and how to help students be educated in their home school instead of sending them somewhere else. We have friends. We have found loving parents and a loving community of people who value their children being around those a little different from them.  We no longer feel worried to send him to school, but confident in the people that are there because they are educated and equipped to service our child. Zach’s life here has not just helped him, but helped others. Zach’s story of what he went through also made it all the way up to the Georgia Department of Education. They, of course, sided with him and ordered policies locally to  prevent this from happening to other students that require behavior plans inside their individual education plan. Our story began with us just wanting to have more kids. Our story then became so much more. God had a plan for Zach. What constantly brings me to my knees is the meaning of his name, Zachariah “The Lord has Remembered.” Our hope is that one day, after everything Zach had to live through for 7 years, is that he will see people who loved him and fought for him. That said ‘enough is enough’ and fought aggressively for his healing and education.  We are just lucky in that process that making it right for Zach, has now made it right for so many more that may come through.  We owe it all to God who had this plan for us.

1 comment:

Shannon Harriman said...

Much love to you and your family! What a beautiful and inspiring story! Our God is so big! I am so glad to call you my family. You are a blessing to many! Thank you for writing!

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