Overcoming the Disability Barrier in Foster Parenting and Adoption

When Roy and Suzy Warrington decided to become foster parents, it was their 17-year old biological daughter’s reaction to their first foster child, Heather Davis, who made them know that she would forever be a part of their family.  Even though the Warringtons have provided foster and respite care for over 20 children over the years, it is Heather who has remained in their care for 10 years and become a permanent part of their family unit.
Suzy recalls, “I remember when our daughter Nicole first saw Heather, who was nine years old at the time, she commented about how cute she was and that was it.  Heather won our hearts and still has them today.”
The journey for Heather Davis has not been an easy one.  Born with mild mental retardation, including some learning disabilities, Heather has been in special education classes since birth.   Suzy Warrington’s training in special education has come in handy in dealing with her foster daughter’s mood disorder and limited attention span.
Suzy comments, “I realized that being a foster parent was a natural choice for me.  My mother had been a foster parent and I like to teach children.  I always felt that if we don’t help each other in life, who will?  In foster parenting, I learned as I went along and got tremendous support from the Department of Social Services.”
While Heather has a number of limitations, Suzy is quick to point out her strengths and talents, including being a voracious reader and a talented artist.  She has also been a tremendous help to the Warringtons over the years with the other foster children who have been in their care.  Suzy adds, “Heather is very helpful and a hard worker.  She has been a tremendous help with the other children we have had over the years.”
With one more year left at Easton High School, Heather is working at the Chesapeake Center in Easton assembling crab mallets, bubbles, cables and flares – all part of the process in readying her for her independence once she turns 21 years old next year.  Foster children are required to transition to independent living at age 21 with the assistance of the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA).  Heather has also taken independent living classes which have helped her develop the necessary skills to live on her own. In addition, the Warringtons are working with a transition team at the Talbot County Department of Social Services to help find Heather the right job and living arrangements to ensure her success.
Heather’s foster father, Roy, has been her advocate in the community, helping her learn to count money and pay for the things she needs from local vendors.  According to Suzy, he has been known to talk to vendors who don’t want to take the bags of coins that Heather uses to purchase items, explaining her system of counting and stressing the importance of accepting her payment system.
According to Becky Smith, LGSW, Foster Care Worker, Talbot County Department of Social Services, “Once Heather moves into a group home in the community and proves her independence, she will get more freedoms while under the support of the Developmental Disability Administration.”
Suzy Warrington comments, “Age 21 will be a big milestone in Heather’s life.  I want her to take those steps to be independent.  I know it’s the right thing to do.”
While the Warringtons considered adopting Heather, they felt that the support that DDA would offer would be a more permanent solution for Heather’s long term care. Suzy comments, “I feel like I am her parent, but I need to be able to trust others to care for her when I am gone.  I have to trust God with this decision.”
While somewhat unsure and scared about what the future holds, Heather states that she is looking forward to being on her own and having time to herself.  She adds, however, “I love my family and will look forward to coming home for visits.” 
Suzy reflects on her experience as Heather’s foster parent, commenting, “It is probably one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.  The experience has made me a better person.  It has showed me a different world and taught me not to judge others and to be more tolerant.”  She adds, “It’s been a tremendous gift.”
For information about becoming a licensed foster/adoptive parent, contact the Talbot County Department of Social Services at 410-770-4848 or attend the regional information session for prospective foster/adoptive parents on Wednesday, September 2 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Caroline Public Library at 100 Market Street in Denton.