The couple featured in this week’s Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family™” series installment set out to become adoptive parents but discovered that fostering children in need brings its own rewards. Here, they explain how they found the strength to let go of the foster children they have grown to love.
Mark Martinez, Jr., 32, and Victor M. Palacios, Jr., 29, of San Jose, Calif. are foster parents looking to adopt. Working with EMQ Families First in Campbell, California, the couple has fostered two sibling sets in short-term placements, and currently has their third placement.
“Our main objective is to adopt,” explained Mark, “but at the moment we are very open to doing ongoing foster care as a concurrent home until we have a child that we are able to adopt. So while we’re waiting for a match we look at helping other kids who need a home.”
In foster care today, reunification of children with their birth family is the number one goal. “Concurrent” means that a process is initiated by whereby the child is prepared simultaneously to reunify with the birth family and, if that doesn’t occur, to be adopted in their current foster placement.
Mark and Victor, who already parent Mark’s 10-year-old biological daughter from a previous relationship, provided a temporary home to two brothers, ages four and eight. After three months the brothers were reunified with their biological father. Then Mark and Victor welcomed two girls, ages three years and five days old, who transitioned to their grandparents after a month. In September of last year, Mark and Victor welcomed a third sibling set, five-year-old Ashley and two-and-a-half-year-old David, who are still living in with them but are in the reunification process. The names of the children have been changed in this story for their security and privacy.
Their experiences with each sibling set were quite different from each other -- the couple enjoyed taking the boys out and having fun, while caring for the infant in the second sibling set was a new but wonderful challenge. Mark says what helped the couple deal with the temporary nature of each placement and having to say goodbye to the children was the knowledge that they had made a difference in the children's lives.
“The children are coming from an environment where maybe they didn't eat for days at a time and were abused and neglected,” says Mark. “It can be a tough experience because even though it is a short period of time, you eat with these children, you live with them, you start to develop a bond.”
Both men work full-time -- Mark is a compliance officer for a collection agency and Victor is an assistant store manager in retail -- so EMQFF’s weekend and evening classes worked well for them. Mark says the agency even accommodated Victor's ever-changing schedule in retail, offering him one-on-one make-up classes when needed. Although the couple had to pay upfront for services such as fingerprinting, they were reimbursed after the first placement.
As the only gay couple in their foster-adoption class, Mark and Victor say they found the other families very open minded. “I felt very comfortable,” says Mark. “Everybody was so friendly and welcoming.”
Mark is appreciative of the time he had with the children and philosophical about the children's reunification with biological relatives.
“I've heard some foster parents don't get attached, but I don't see how not,” says Mark. “I think for me what makes the separation easier is if you know they are going to a safe environment where they will be taken care of.”
“And along the way, each and every one of these children always seems to find a special place in our hearts,” says Victor.
Ashley and David are coming up on their 12-month review soon, meaning the courts may decide to allow more time for reunification services, or terminate reunification services and consider a permanent placement for the children. Mark and Victor know that a maternal relative who resides out of county will probably adopt the children.
How do Mark and Victor deal with getting attached to the kids and then saying goodbye to them?
“What makes it a little easier is knowing where the children are headed,” said Mark. “The foster parent can choose to interact and communicate with the family and the parents. In all three cases I have had some communication with relatives and with the family where the children will be placed so I get an idea of what the family is like. Just knowing that they’re going into another home where I feel that they will be safe does help make it easier.”
“At the end of the day,” he adds, “the way I look at it is that I did something positive in that child’s life even though they’re not remaining with me permanently. Knowing that they are moving on to a home that will be able to provide them with some love and care and security makes it a little easier.”
Mark says having input in court about the children’s well-being and placement is important to him.
“We do have an opportunity to speak up in the court system and explain how we feel about the child’s placement,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of foster parents take that initiative to do so, to become defacto parents, which gives us a legal right in court to give our opinion and to object to anything that we don’t agree with. I don’t know if some parents are not aware of it or they don’t feel that they need to take that extra initiative, but I don’t think it’s something that is frequently done.”
Ongoing contact with foster children after they are reunified sometimes occurs through a mutual agreement between the foster family and the biological family. Mark said they didn’t pursue ongoing contact in the first case because the placement was so short. In the second case, the family did not want to reinforce the children’s memory of the difficult period in their life by ongoing contact, so Mark and Victor respected their wishes. However, the situation is different with Ashley and David’s family.
“Because they have been a long-term placement and we see the family on a weekly basis, we have developed a relationship with them,” Victor said. “So in this case I think there is a mutual feeling of wanting to have ongoing communication in the future if the children are reunified with their parents or another family member or if they are reunified with mom and dad. And for future placements, we’ve also made it clear to the court and our social workers that we are available for an open adoption, meaning we would still let the children see family and let their family be a part of their lives even after the adoption is finalized.”
Both Mark and Victor's families have supplied substantial emotional support, with their moms providing childcare on the weekends or when both men are working.
“The grandmas have developed that bond with the children, and the kids have become attached to them as well,” said Mark. “Ashley and David call me Daddy and they call my mom Grandma, probably because they hear what our own biological daughter, Jessyca, calls us. I’ve never corrected them and it’s become an awkward situation when we were meeting their mom and dad for a visit. But I think mom and dad, from what they’ve shared, do appreciate us because we are caring for their children when they can’t.”
Corinne Lightweaver is the Communications Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns and events to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,200 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US.