Carolina Clark, 38, and her husband Michael, 42, spent Carolina’s birthday in January 2016 meeting Jordan, the little boy who would take over their hearts and become their son. As they spent time playing and bonding during that first meeting, at least one person knew it was meant to be. “His foster mom said she knew we were his family the minute we walked in the door,” Carolina says.
Almost two years later, in November of 2017, Jordan officially became a Clark. “It’s never easy, the waiting game and the anxiety,” Carolina says. But thanks to her social worker, and the family’s prior experience with foster care, she’s glad the process went as smoothly as it did.
The Clark’s first experience with the foster care system came three years earlier, but it wasn’t the experience they’d hoped for. “I wish the workers had taken the time to get to know us and our family before giving us placements,” Carolina says. “We were just thrown in there and whatever happens, happens.” As with many first-time pre-adoptive families, Carolina describes uncertainty about the process, not being quite sure what the family wanted or needed, and misunderstanding her rights to set clear boundaries around the types of children they were able to take into their home. Looking back, she wishes she had done more research and been firm with their family’s guidelines.
“You want to help, and you want to love them, and you want to fall in love, and it pulls at your heartstrings when they call you with that one child who doesn’t quite meet what you were hoping for, but you just want to help,” Carolina says. She cautions other families, “Do a lot of thinking and be really firm when you make your decisions.”
Carolina and Michael have two biological children who were affected by the challenges the family experienced throughout their first journey into foster care. At the time, Juliana was 5 years old and Nina was 3. Considering the effect on their children, they decided to close their home with the hope that they’d maybe revisit the adoption possibilities when the girls got older. And that’s exactly what they did.
Only, this time it was different.
Carolina says they knew more about the process and about themselves the second time around. They knew they ultimately wanted to adopt, and didn’t want foster children who would be “in and out” of their home, or temporary placements. They also wanted a preadoptive child to be the youngest in the home, and they wanted a boy.
“There are going to be reasons why you make your decisions about age, about gender, about whatever it is. And if you’re not firm about it, nobody else is going to be,” Carolina said. Speaking from her own experience, she warns new foster parents that without upholding your boundaries when DCF suggests a child that isn’t quite what your family is hoping for, “you’re going to feel overwhelmed and resenting the process.”
But Carolina says she can’t take all the credit. She praises her social worker, Jane, for taking the time to get to know her family well. She took extra time to get to know Michael especially, whom Carolina says isn’t always the most talkative, and took a risk by asking some really tough questions. But making that extra effort seems to have made a world of difference in ensuring Jordan’s placement with the Clarks was successful. “It really has to work for the whole family,” Carolina says.
A happy surprise, their family ended up extending even beyond this little boy.
Jordan had been placed with his previous foster mom, Cindy Ruppel, when he was 10 months old—eight months before he’d meet Carolina and Michael. Although the Clarks aren’t able to give Jordan a connection to his birth family, they’ve extended their own family to include the Ruppels, his previous foster family.
“At times they may not realize what a gift they have given us,” Carolina says, but promises, “He’ll know- I lived here for a while and these people also loved me.” There was some guilt, Carolina says, about taking Jordan from the Ruppels, a loving home with a stay-at-home mom he’d known for almost half his little life. But both Cindy and Carolina knew, the Clarks were his forever family.
Jordan still makes requests to go over and play at the Ruppel’s house, which they do. And Cindy is able to provide photos and videos from before the Clarks connected with Jordan. Recently, Ruppel shared a lock of hair from Jordan’s first haircut. “He will forever have that connection to them,” Carolina says. “They’ve been a blessing to us.”
Jordan’s adoption worker, Mary, was also instrumental, Carolina says, and ensured the adoption proceeded smoothly. Before they knew it, they were walking out of a courtroom as a family. As happy as she was to be finalizing an adoption, it wasn’t exactly what Carolina was envisioning. “There was so much anxiety throughout the process leading up to it,” Carolina says, “but then we go into that courtroom and two minutes, it’s done!” She laughs, admitting she might be slightly exaggerating, then says it was so quick, the moment didn’t sink in until much later.
When his new insurance card arrives in the mail and she reads “Jordan Clark,” or when she sees his name on his desk at preschool, or when he says his full name… Those moments hit her. “It’s like, ‘Wow! Really? Are we that lucky? Did that really happen? Is it really done? Is it true? Really, nobody can take him?’” Carolina said.
“That’s his name and that’s it.”