11 year-old Mary from Columbia shows displays her nails on Friday as she describes her experiences while staying with Kidsave host, Linda Tyler in Valencia as she hopes to meet prospective parents. Dan Watson/The Signal

Finding loving homes in the SCV

Eleven-year-old Mary traveled to Valencia from Colombia for five weeks this summer. She, like many other 11-year-olds, loves to play outside, write and dance, yet Mary is missing something many kids her age have — a family.

Mary doesn’t have a family of her own, and she traveled to California through Summer Miracles, a Kidsave, an outreach program for the nonprofit that’s dedicated to helping older kids in need of families find forever homes.

Younger foster children have a better chance at finding a permanent family, and many social workers say that people looking to adopt children are less likely to consider adopting an older child.

“From my experience, a lot of our families would like (to adopt) little children,” said Makeda Ekakitie, foster and adoptions social worker at Children’s Bureau, a nonprofit leader in the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect in Southern California.

“They feel like older kids have a backstory that they’ve been through,” she added. “They usually come with more emotional challenges and require a higher level of emotional care.”

Many times, older children remember more, which means they not only remember their birth parents, but also the trauma they’ve experienced, according to Ekakitie.

“They ultimately want to go back with their birth parents, no matter how dysfunctional that situation may be, because it’s their comfort level,” Ekakitie added. “Many feel guilty for having a nice home or school. They have to do a lot of work with therapy just to alter that mindset and realize that it’s okay to live their best life.”

It’s still important to remember that no matter what these children are doing, they’re still children, and most haven’t gone through the normal stages of childhood, Ekakitie said.

“Mary is just such a joy to be with,” said Linda Taylor, Mary’s host family. “She’s very responsible, always happy and never complains. She’s just so much fun to be with.”

Kidsave host Linda Tyler, left, listens as 11 year-old Mary from Columbia discusses her experiences on Friday while staying with Tyler in Valencia. Dan Watson/The Signal

Mary describes herself as a happy girl who likes to play with her friends and write stories. She’s liking California so far, and said she’s enjoyed traveling to new places, like Disneyland, summer camp and the beach, and is even learning how to swim.

Mary said she hopes to have a family someday, fulfill her dreams and wants to become a history teacher when she grows up, “because I love to spend time with kids, and little kids really like me. And I like history because of all the stories (you learn).”

“The kids really do love her,” Taylor added. “All the kids, they swarm her when she arrives, like she’s famous or something. She is a leader among her peers.”

Mary is part of a group of 45 Colombian kids, ages 7 through 14, who are looking for forever homes during their visit as they have little to no chance of finding adoptive parents in their own country, according to Kidsave.

“Every weekend, we have an event where visiting families can come and meet the kids,” Taylor said.

These events are exactly what Ekakitie said Children’s Bureau recommends as advocating for community involvement can help children feel that sense of belonging and acclimate their lives to their new environment.

Though Mary is Colombian, the need for loving families is local, too. Of the 64,000 children in foster care in California, Los Angeles County’s foster care population exceeds 21,000 children, with 200 foster children waiting to be connected to a family to be adopted, according to Children’s Bureau.

“There are thousands of children that don’t have homes,” said Alison Nistal, foster care and adoption social worker at Children’s Bureau. “There are way more children that need homes than there are families, for all ages.”

Nistal recommends that those who are interested in becoming a foster parent or fostering to adopt, come to one of Children’s Bureau’s monthly information meetings, which is the first step.

“Regardless of what the intention is, if they can’t have children of their own, their children have aged out, or whatever it may be, I would definitely encourage to come to an information meeting to see if they are willing and able to take that next step,” Nistal added.

The information meeting is expected to help families understand if they have the ability and resources to help a child in need with the next meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17 at Children’s Bureau, located at 27200 Tourney Road, Suite 175, in Valencia.

Mary returns to Colombia on Aug. 1, and Taylor said she hopes Mary will meet a family that will love and take care of her.

“Mary is a special kid who deserves to be in a loving family that can support her in every step of life,” Taylor said.

For more information about Mary and the Summer Miracles program, visit kidsave.org/summer-miracles. Those interested in Children’s Bureau can request an information packet or application via the website at all4kids.org/program/foster-care.

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