“Looking back, I don’t know what life was like before Alex.”
Those are the words of Joaquín Moreno, who together with husband Charles Bell adopted their son through the California foster system last year. The couple wants to speak out about the system, but not because of the reasons you might assume.
For them, Joaquín and Charles say, going through the foster system has been a great experience. They not only were able to begin their family, but they availed themselves of abundant resources from the state.
“It’s a very viable option for a lot of people,” Charles says today.
The two are located in the Monterey, California area and met on Grindr, back in 2010. Joaquín is an inclusion facilitator at a charter school and Charles is a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
They married in 2013 (although it wasn’t legal in their state at the time) and made it officially official in July. One thing they both agreed on from the beginning, though, was starting a family.
“Family has always been a huge thing,” Joaquín says. “I want to keep the legacy going, as far as my belief system.”
“We were both at the right place at the right time,” Charles says.
But how would they do it? Based on the experience of some of Charles’s friends, the couple decided to try the foster care system. After making sure their finances were in order, they took classes through a local group called the Kinship Center from October to December of 2012.
They weren’t impressed by the costs and other issues surrounding surrogacy and international adoption. What’s more, they thought, they could help someone local through the foster care system.
“We both know there’s an incredible number of kids in need of families,” Charles says. “We both resolved that was really the method we wanted to go through.”
After finishing their classes at the end of 2012, Joaquín and Charles were ready. And on the trip home from their Palm Springs honeymoon in April 2013 they received a video of Alex.
“It just hit us, like, Wow, this is really happening,” Charles says.
A week and a half after their return, they met the 4-year-old at a park, active and physical, playing on the monkey bars. They followed that up with overnight visits, then weekend stays. They began to bond.
“You could just tell from his energy that he wanted to find a home,” Joaquín says.
Alex finally came to live with Charles and Joaquín the day before he turned 5 years old, on May 31, 2013. His adoption was formalized a little less than a year later. He’s now attending second grade and doing well.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but to prove a point: Adoptions from the foster care system can and do succeed.
That doesn’t mean the adjustment didn’t pose challenges.
Joaquín, because of his school job, was off for the summer. Charles took three weeks off from work. They focused on bonding during that time, going on camping trips and helping Alex adjust to the rules of their home.
“It’s a rough time period; people are finding their rhythms,” Joaquín said.
Charles says he lost 15 pounds in the first three weeks that Alex was in their home. Keeping up with a high-energy child could be a challenge.
“Here is someone who’s 5 years old and already has opinions and personality and everything,” he says.
One of the biggest advantages the couple – and Alex – had in getting settled is that Joaquín comes from a special education background. He gave Alex a solid structure, with a regular scheduling and clear expectations.
It was security Alex didn’t have before, the couple says, and it helped at the beginning as he was getting emotionally regulated. There were times he might want to run out of the house and they would need to talk about safety.
And on occasion, Charles would have to call Joaquín at work and admit: “I don’t know what to do here.”
The state foster system helped, too. It provided attachment therapy sessions twice a month. Alex also had speech therapy sessions and occupational therapy to help his communication and coordination abilities. Both improved dramatically, and have resolved.
“Alex is not the same kid he was when he moved into our home,” Joaquín says today.
They are open about Alex being adopted. “He knows there’s no shame in it,” Joaquín says. “He knows that he’s in a much better place now.”
Those who knew Alex before, the couple says, are “completely amazed by the transformation.”
The couple is currently mulling over adding to their family, although the pieces aren’t all in place to do so quite yet. But they have absolutely no regrets, and urge other couples to educate themselves about the foster system.
“We would gladly do it all over again,” Joaquín says.
“Oh, definitely,” adds Charles.