On his path to becoming a dad, Steven Engle admits his biggest obstacle was himself at first. "In my mind, I had to be in a relationship or married to have a child," he said. Steven had wasted many years believing that simply as fact. "And yes, I realize how antiquated that is... I'm embarrassed to admit it." Then one day, he was out with a good friend who just said, "Why not do it on your own?" It was Steven's 'aha' moment. "Once I got past that, I was unstoppable."
Although Steven, who lives in Los Angeles, briefly considered adoption and surrogacy, he wanted to learn more about becoming a foster parent and adopting through the foster care system. Steven called up an old friend who had become a dad through a similar path to ask for advice and share his experience. His friend did so willingly and was happy to talk about adoption.
From there, Steven decided to attend an orientation at Extraordinary Families in Los Angeles. "I went in with a very open mind. I was very nervous and told myself that if something comes up and I realize it isn't a good fit, I would move on to another option, whatever that may be." After the orientation, Steven said that it felt so right that he started his training shortly thereafter. "I wanted to be certified ASAP. I knew that this was the road I was meant to be on."
And did Steven ever encounter any difficulty becoming a licensed foster parent as a single gay man in his early 40s? The short answer: no. "I am very fortunate that I live in Los Angeles. Extraordinary Families is open to any prospective foster parent regardless of sexual orientation, race, religion, marital status, etc. [It was] one of the reasons I felt so at home and comfortable with them."
In December 2016, he became a certified foster/resource parent.
After becoming licensed, Steven began to receive calls just days later. "My first call regarding a placement, I actually missed because I was out of town and ended up getting back to my agency too late, but the calls kept coming in after the New Year. I said 'no' to a small handful because I knew my limits as a single parent. Then in January of 2017, I got my first baby, a beautiful newborn little boy." Steven cared for this little boy for four-and-a-half months until he was reunified with relatives. "I was heartbroken," said Steven. He took some time off, but decided to try again a month or so later.
It wasn't long until he received another call, this time about a little girl. "She was a strong, precious newborn," remembered Steven. "She was home with me for only twelve days before DCFS was able to place her with the foster parents that adopted her sibling. It still hurt and breaks your heart." Steven, again, took some time off to heal.
In September 2017, he thought he'd give it another shot. "They say, third times a charm!" recalled Steven. But he was starting to wonder if he was meant to be a dad. "Maybe I was just meant to love these little ones unconditionally until their family was ready to raise them on their own. And I was beginning to accept that as my fate."
That was until his third placement. "He was a handsome little newborn boy. I had him for three and a half months, but he was reunified the day after Christmas." While Steven totally supported and agreed with his first two placements being reunified, he had a very different experience with DCFS when it came to his third.
"He was removed from my care and placed with a non-relative which is NOT out of the ordinary," explained Steven. "But due to the fact that my county social worker was not very forthcoming, it left me wondering why. This social worker had many conversations with me and my agency and we got multiple conflicting stories or paths that the court was planning on taking. She told us that the court was done doing their due diligence in regards to finding suitable 'blood relatives.' It came down to one bio relative and if this person didn't work out, my little guy was going to stay in my care. This relative ended up not passing a background check so I thought I was in the clear."
Fast forward to the day after Christmas, and Steven received a call from a DCFS supervisor, not even his social worker, telling him that they were moving the child to stay with a non-relative. "I was distraught to say the least. Had there been an open line of communication between DCFS and myself, I might not have been left in a position of wondering why. Sadly because of countless lies and remarks made, I was left wondering why? Was it because of my sexuality? Or was it because I only spoke English and not Spanish? Was it because I was single? Unfortunately all I have is my recollection of the conversations with the county social worker and the comments that she made towards the agency and myself. The decision was very unexpected and nothing like the previous two placements that I had."
This had been Steven's third placement, and he thought he was done. He couldn't go through the pain again. "I told my agency that I wasn't going to be looking for any more placements. And if I changed my mind, I would contact them. And of course, like I did with each other time, I then proceeded to tell them if something extraordinary comes up… let me know."
On January 17, 2018, Steven's phone started to ring non-stop. It had only been a couple of weeks since the third placement with the little boy had been given to a non-relative, and because he didn't recognize the numbers calling, he decided to ignore them. Then the texts started coming in.
"I was at Gelson's and I remember just thinking, 'Oh sh**, they have a baby for me' and I immediately started sobbing in the frozen food section. I pulled it together and checked out. And when I got to my car I gave Extraordinary Families a call. And they told me they had a 'safe surrender' baby."
The agency had said yes on Steven's behalf because they knew another agency would also get the call. "I didn't know they said yes, and I told them of course I will take him," said Steven. "I knew this would be my best chance to adopt at the lowest risk. I was very concerned [when I learned] that they had already said yes and I asked, what would have happened if I said no? They assured me that they could very easily call DCFS back and tell them that I changed my mind. I owe them a lot. Who knows what would have happened if I stayed longer balling inside of Gelson's."
Little Oscar, the newborn "safe surrender" baby, came home to live with Steven not long after. In June 2019, Steven finalized the adoption of his son Oscar when he was 17 months old.
After the long road that Steven traveled to become a dad, he has some sound advice for others: find an agency that feels like family, because they hold your hand throughout your entire journey. Many of Steven's social workers were at his son's adoption signing, and also at the adoption celebration party. They will remain like family.
"Aside from that, just remember that you have no control over the situation. With my first, I tried my hardest to be involved in every step, thinking it would somehow change the outcome. There are so many forces outside of your control. Don't waste your energy there. At the end of the day it's about loving these children, cherishing every moment with them and being there for them unconditionally."
"As much heartache as I experienced on my journey of fostering, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat," continued Steven. "These babies weren't born under the best of circumstances. They didn't ask for that. No child deserves that. Yes my first three were reunified but I gave them the best start to their lives. I took them each home from the hospital after birth. And whether they were with me for 12 days, four and a half months, or I adopted them, I gave each one of them a safe and nurturing home filled with unconditional love. I am just so thankful that I was in a position to give them the best re-start to their lives."
"It took four tries and I finally got my son. It was meant to be."