Maine couple starts family by adopting three

Posted:  Monday, December 22, 2014 - 8:00am

Like hundreds of families, the McLaughlins visited the Boothbay Railway Village on Oct. 26 and rode the “Ghost Train.” Mary and Kevin McLaughlin, of Belgrade, brought their three children (Christopher, 8; Miranda, 10; and Kameron, 8) to enjoy the weekend’s spooky Halloween celebration.

Traveling around the state is nothing new for the Belgrade, Maine family. The McLaughlins enjoy taking day trips to visit attractions like the Ghost Train, or loading up their camper for a weekend outing.

In most ways, the McLaughlins are a typical Maine family — with one exception. The McLaughlins didn’t become parents through biology, but rather adoption. Mary, 52, and Kevin, 57, married in 1999. Even at their relatively late ages for a first-time marriage, the couple still wanted to raise a family.

They became foster parents in 2003, and cared for nine children for six years before adopting their three children.

Foster parenting is usually the last of a multiple step process in adopting a child. The McLaughlins were one of approximately 1,400 Maine foster families annually who participate in the program, according to the Office of Child and Family Services.

The McLaughlins were caring for three foster children in August 2009 when they decided to adopt their foster children: Miranda and Christopher. They had actually cared for another foster child, Kameron, for a longer time.

But the state Department of Health and Human services expected Kameron to be returned to his biological family. Those plans changed in November 2009 when OCFS informed the family he was available for adoption. The McLaughlins had cared for Kameron for over a year when they heard the good news.

“There was no way I was going to pass up a chance to adopt Kameron,” Mary McLaughlin said. “Once you’ve held a child in your hands it is difficult to let them go. When we found out he was available there was no question that we wanted to adopt him, too!”

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services have 1,950 foster children currently in the Office of Child and Family Services program. The department hopes to reunite a large portion of these children with their biological parents or to another relative.

Others will be adopted by foster parents, like the McLaughlins, who are looking to either start or add to an existing family.

At present, there are about 360 foster children in the program waiting to for their “Forever Family,” according to OCFS Adoption Manager Kristi Poole. These children are  unlikely to reunite with their families.

“Most children will spend two birthdays with their foster families,” said Poole, who lives in Boothbay Harbor. “Some may stay for a shorter period and others may stay longer, but the goal is to find them permanency with their ‘Forever Family.’ It’s called that because when you adopt, it’s forever.”

The service works to find “permanency” for each child, according to Poole. Permanency means the child is either returned to their biological family or adopted.

While Kameron, Christopher and Miranda all found permanency in a “Forever Home,” many do not.

Poole estimates about 100 Maine foster children reach age 18 annually without finding “permanency” and nationally, 26,000 experience the same fate.

Once a foster child reaches age 18 in Maine, DHHS continues to assist the young adult until age 21.

Besides wanting a family, Mary McLaughlin wanted to adopt for another reason. She grew up as a foster child without finding “permanency.”

“We have enough foster children in Maine and we wanted to provide a permanent family for them,” Mary McLaughlin said. “I was a foster child from age two and a half, so it was important from a personal perspective to do this.”

Right now, the DHHS has 14 older foster children (eight boys and six girls) ranging from age 13-17 on who have not been matched with a “Forever Family.”

Maine, along with 47 other states, uses the website to match older youths who won’t be adopted by a relative or foster family.

Adopting older children is the quickest means for starting a family, according to Lindsey Bragdon, a social worker with the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers in Waterville.

The agency is one of ten in Maine that specializes in adoption services.

The Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers counsels women during unplanned pregnancies. Her agency works with clients to find the best possible resolution to the unplanned pregnancy and offers adoption counseling and placement services.

“We go over all their options,” Bragdon said. “We ask them to consider adoption for their child. But adopting newborns in Maine is rare. If you are looking to start a family, the quickest way is to adopt a child already in foster care. If you want an infant, you should consult national and international listings.”

Among the 10 statewide, private nonprofit adoption services across the state include China Adoption of Love, Inc. in Saco, which matches a Chinese child with a Maine family; Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, which works within a network matching Maine, U.S. and international children with a family; and Stepping Stones in Portland, which works to place healthy Caucasian, Bi-racial, and African American children in Maine homes. Stepping Stones also finds Maine families for children from Russia, Kazakhstan, China and India.

The DHHS and the 10 adoption agencies all work with prospective parents in matching them with a child and counseling them both before and after the adoption.

Each foster and adoptive parent must be licensed by the state. DHHS and the 10 private adoption agencies put the prospective families through a series of interviews and background checks before granting the license.

Most adoptive families become foster parents first. During this period, DHHS will continue to visit and study the child’s home life with the child’s foster parents prior to approving the adoption. DHHS requires adoptive parents be at least 21 years old, with no record of a criminal conviction against a child.

Even though there are 360 foster children ready for adoption, that doesn’t mean every applicant ends up adopting a child.

“The department’s goal is to find a family for every child, not a child for every family,” Poole said.

When a successful match is made, it enables the adoptive child to find permanency in their “Forever Home” like Kameron, Miranda and Christopher found with the McLaughlins.

The children received an early Christmas present on Dec. 6 when the family traveled to Santa’s Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire.

Besides visiting with Santa, the McLaughlin kids enjoyed going on all the amusement rides. Miranda McLaughlin described these weekend trips as being a great way to spend time with her family.

“I like being with my family and going on these trips are fun,” she said. “My mom and dad take us to places that are interesting. We always have a good time, whether it’s camping or going to Santa’s Village. They take us to a lot of great places.”

While the McLaughlins made their relationship permanent with their three adoptive children, that doesn’t mean the family won’t be caring for more foster children.

“I would like to foster more children,” Mary McLaughlin said. “When our ‘three special deliveries’ are older and I can be a stay-at-home mom that would be a good time. As far as adopting more children, that is a possibility with any child who enters our doors.”