Ever wonder how experienced foster and adoptive parents manage to navigate the process without just wanting to give up? Do they have some way of avoiding the roadblocks that the rest of us naturally seem to encounter while fostering or trying to adopt? Let adoptive parents Donna and Jason Kempf reassure you: there’s no Magic 8 Ball or secret road map that tells you how to make fostering or adopting easy! From overwhelming paperwork and long waiting periods to the heartbreak of not being matched with a specific child – this is not a path for the faint of heart.
But, Donna and Jason also say that if you can keep a positive lemons-into-lemonade, obstacles-into-opportunities attitude, you can emerge from the foster and adoptive journey stronger than ever – and as an even stronger advocate for the importance of family in the life of a child.
Donna and Jason Kempf have taken this journey three times now, and each time presented its own unique scenarios to address. They adopted their youngest daughter, Eva-Grace, during National Adoption Month in 2019; she joined biological children Michael and Sarah, and two other adopted children, Marat and Jezaya.
Donna, Jason, and their children Michael and Sarah were familiar with sign language long before they knew they would use it on a daily basis. Donna worked as an ASL Interpreter, and their children attended a school where there was signing in the classrooms. So when Donna and Jason made the decision to adopt, it seemed only natural that they would adopt a child with hearing loss.
They chose an agency that specialized in finding families for children with special needs and, although they hadn’t initially planned on adopting internationally, soon the family was traveling to Novosibirsk, Russia to meet Marat – a little boy with moderate hearing loss. His adoption involved a lot of paperwork and more than a few visits to Russia, but Marat officially became a Kempf in December 2007. Today, at 13 years old and in the 8th grade, Marat is thriving. He has an interpreter in his classroom, and his new Bluetooth-compatible hearing aids allow him to participate in all the activities and expectations of mainstream middle school.
For children and youth in foster care who may not be so sure about being adopted, Marat enthusiastically recommends it. “I think it’s a great idea!” he says, “because kids should not be alone in shelters or orphanages.” And the best part? “I have a family that specifically chose me!”
The family decided to adopt internationally a second time, and began working with their agency again to complete the paperwork and identify a child who could join their family. While they were in that process, though, Marat’s speech therapist told them about a little girl here who needed a home. This wasn’t at all what Donna and Jason were expecting – they had fully planned to adopt from India…not Indiana! But, Jason especially felt that since there was a “kiddo in our own backyard” who needed them, they should as a family consider adopting right here at home.
Learning about Jezaya introduced a potential “obstacle” to Donna and Jason’s plan to adopt. They had been waiting for two years for an international placement, but Jezaya needed a family right away. Recognizing this as not an obstacle but an opportunity to provide a home for another child with special needs, the Kempfs quickly switched gears. Instead of international adoption, they would adopt from foster care; their license was expedited for an emergency placement, and it wasn’t long before Jezaya moved into their home.
Donna remembers being nervous about some daunting behaviors that were documented by Jezaya’s former foster parents. Relying both on her intuition as a mother and her experience as a language specialist, Donna suspected that the behaviors were related to Jezaya’s frustrations over her struggles to communicate. Jezaya’s hearing loss was much more severe than Marat’s, but Donna trusted in their ability to tackle this “obstacle” by giving Jezaya the tools she needed to be successful…in this case, language. Early on, Jezaya would point or raise her voice to express her needs, but over time, with consistent and patient teaching, the Kempfs noticed that Jezaya “lit up with every new word we taught her!” Although it wasn’t always easy, by helping Jezaya learn how to turn her obstacle into an opportunity, the Kempfs never experienced the intense behaviors they’d been warned about.
14-year-old Jezaya, who was adopted in 2011, has found her niche as a student at Indiana School for the Deaf and now communicates with relative ease. She echoes Marat’s feelings about why families should adopt. “I was happy because I found a family and would not be alone. Kids need a safe and loving family!” (Plus, this family came with lots of Rice Krispie treats and Nintendo Wii bowling, both of which Jezaya says she thoroughly enjoys.)
Adopting two children with special needs would be quite enough for many people. So this seems like a good place for the family’s involvement with adoption to end, right? Oldest children in college, younger children navigating middle school — and an empty nest on the not-too-distant horizon. The Kempfs didn’t know it yet, but their adoptive parent journey was definitely not over. Next week, we’ll share the rest of their story, and introduce you to a phenomenal little girl named Eva-Grace.