Denise Russell, Holt’s child advocacy coordinator in the Seattle area, works with youth in foster care every day. And each child is so special to her. But one child, Kyle, especially touched her heart and reminded her of the urgency to find families for children in the U.S.
I love meeting and interviewing the fostered children we feature on “A Family For Me.” They are never who I expect them to be. Reading their profiles helps me envision their personalities and seeing their beautiful photos gives me a glimmer of their essence. But no amount of research has completely prepared me for meeting these young people and hearing what they have to say.
Over the past eight years, our partnership with KING5 News in Seattle has allowed us to feature over 170 foster care youth who are waiting for permanent, loving families through adoption. And yet, I’m confident I can still tell you something unique about every single child I’ve ever interviewed. One way or another, they either did something unexpected, said something incredibly profound, made me laugh, wore me out, left me speechless, generated a tear, and/or taught me something new.
I suppose if I had to choose a representative, it would be Kyle* — perhaps because I was able to spend a little more time with him than usual. When I first met him, he was 10 and we had a fantastic time with a glow-in-the-dark, mini golf activity.
After the game, I sat down with Kyle for an interview. He answered a few “tell me about yourself” questions and then I asked how his friends would describe him. Sometimes, this is an introspective question that elicits some pretty funny answers. But this was not the case with Kyle. He said he really didn’t have any friends, that kids told him he wasn’t smart, and then his eyes welled up with tears. And then, on the other side of the camera, my eyes welled up, too. I stopped my questions and tried to comfort, compliment and encourage him. He went on to share more about himself and we finished our interview. But that one moment haunted me. Since so many kids in foster care are working through social and interpersonal challenges, I would never ask that question again without checking in with a child’s care team.
Due to a technical issue, our footage of Kyle was not able to air. So we had to schedule a completely new video. This time, we appealed to Kyle’s love of rockets and we went to the Space Museum. He loved it! And everything was going great until we sat down for the interview, off in a corner of the building. I asked a few questions, and he could not speak. Although we were away from commotion, our location was still too public for this soft-spoken young man. Thankfully, our museum guide whisked us into a private room, equipped with cool, aerospace decor and relaxing ambiance. Once again, we attached a microphone to Kyle’s shirt and he proceeded to give a truly funny and engaging interview. I seem to remember him enthusiastically bringing up the topic of snakes and other creepy crawlies.
Kyle’s was the only video we’ve ever needed to reshoot due to a technical problem. However, we have created several follow-up videos for youth who were still waiting for a family as they became older. And, indeed, sometimes it was that subsequent video that found just the right family.
As it turned out, Kyle also continued to wait and we continued to advocate for him. When an updated photo was sent my way, I noticed he was starting to sport the beginnings of a mustache. It seemed shocking how fast he was maturing! And I was reminded of the urgency of our work. Ultimately the advocacy for Kyle succeeded, and I was thrilled to learn he had been matched with a family, the same family that would go on to adopt him! I will always be grateful for the family that took Kyle’s heart in their hands. Somehow that guy managed to get away with a chunk of mine and I have not been able to forget him.
Denise Russell | Child Advocacy Coordinator
To learn more about youth waiting in Washington and Oregon’s foster care and adoption programs, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
*”Kyle” is not his real name