Family named Outstanding Adoptive Family by Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange
Katelyn and Eric Clark not only opened their hearts and home to two sisters, they also take the time to mentor new families through the foster care and adoption process and share their stories of struggle and triumph to inspire others.
The Clarks’ passion for foster care and adoption and their commitment to helping new foster and adoptive parents caught the attention of the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange, which named the Clarks “Outstanding Adoptive Family” as part of National Adoption Awareness Month, celebrated every year in November. The couple received their foster care license and adopted the girls through Oakland Family Services.
“Katelyn is in a foster care support group online and it is awesome to watch her share her story with other foster parents, share advice, lend a listening ear, and inspire others,” said the former Oakland Family Services caseworker who nominated the Clarks. “But what makes Katelyn and Eric even more impressive is their willingness to learn from more experienced foster and adoptive parents. They are always willing to learn and try to do what is best for their girls.”
Katelyn, 29. and Eric, 31, are very honored and thankful for the recognition by MARE. Katelyn said their desire to help others comes naturally since Eric use to be a paramedic and she is in the health care field.
“We want to ensure just because their life didn’t start out right, it doesn’t mean it has to stay that way,” Katelyn said. “We want them to have the tools they need to be the best version of themselves.”
After Katelyn’s third miscarriage, the couple decided they wanted to open their hearts to kids who needed love in the foster care system. Eric came from a big family and couldn’t imagine not being with his siblings, so he and Katelyn requested they foster siblings.
Abbigale and Riley arrived at their house on Dec. 21, 2016 after Katelyn and Eric had spent about a month visiting the girls at their previous foster home on weekdays. The girls had been in foster care since they were removed from their home at birth.
Katelyn took a six-week maternity leave from her job as a clinical research coordinator at Henry Ford Hospital to help the girls transition into their new foster home. At the time, Abbigale was 18 months old and Riley was 8 months old. The couple noticed right away that the girls were experiencing some developmental delays. Abbigale could only say about five words, and Riley wasn’t sitting up on her own, crawling or just mumbling. The Clarks worked relentlessly to get Riley’s gross motor skills on track, and both of the girls received help with their speech through Head Start. The girls are now thriving in preschool, and Riley continues to work on her speech through a special program.
The decision to adopt the girls was a no brainer for the Clarks. Parental rights for Abbigale already were terminated when she came into the Clarks’ foster home, and Riley’s were terminated shortly afterward. Abbigale’s adoption was finalized April 17, 2017 in Oakland County and Riley’s adoption was finalized June 22, 2017 in Wayne County.
“We love the girls and are thankful OFS chose us to be parents of them and take care of them,” Katelyn said.
Adopting children of a different race has brought its own set of challenges. Katelyn spends a lot of time attending trainings and gathering information from transracial adoption groups on Facebook to learn all she can to ensure her girls learn to love themselves and develop a positive self-image.
“One of my biggest things I tell people thinking about foster care or adoption is check out the Facebook groups,” Katelyn said. “A lot of people don’t like to rely on social media, but it is very helpful. We live in era where it’s easy to connect with people online.”
She and Eric also share their stories of struggles and triumph.
“We realized soon after adopting the girls we had friends who were not to open to the idea of either adoptive children or adoptive children of another race,” she explained. “That was tough, but we also have new, amazing friends and a great support system, and the girls are surrounded by love.”
“[Fostering] is without a doubt the most heartbreaking, but most rewarding thing you can do with your life. If you can open up your heart to kids who need that love, this is the best, but if you can’t, be a secondary caregiver for those who are going through it. Everyone deserves to have a safe place and to feel love.”
The Clarks have been so pleased with Oakland Family Services that they have referred three families to the agency who are interested in foster care. Katelyn said Oakland Family Services has treated them like they are family.
“My husband and I are working parents, and we like the availability of OFS staff,” Katelyn said. “If we had to have a family visit, they will do it after 4 p.m. We also like the communication with OFS caseworkers, who were amazing. They would answer an email or text no matter what time of night. Riley was very sick when she first came to us with some respiratory issues and I called our caseworker at 2 or 3 a.m. I didn’t know what to do and without a beat she was always there for us. That’s what we tell people.”