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Forever home

Heather Phillips plays with her children Arianna, 9, and Michael, 12, both of whom she adopted eight years ago. - NIOMI PEARSON photo
Heather Phillips plays with her children Arianna, 9, and Michael, 12, both of whom she adopted eight years ago.
— image credit: NIOMI PEARSON photo

oel and Ashleigh Martinflatt will always vividly recall the moment they met their daughter for the first time.

“It was magical and beautiful,” Ashleigh said. “I had to catch my breath and hold on to something, it was surreal.”

For Joel and Ashleigh, it was a decision they had made long before. Both are social workers and well aware of the hundreds of B.C. children waiting for forever homes.

And in those first moments, which may have seemed a lifetime, they waited, having come an hour early, to meet the 22-month-old toddler they adopted through the Ministry of Children and Families.

“When we first met her, it was overwhelming, like being outside the delivery room ready to knock,” Joel said. “As soon as you see the child, you’re already head over heels in love with them... sometimes it takes the child a little bit to figure out who the heck you are.”

November is adoption awareness month in the province and B.C. Adoption (www.adoptbc.com) is not only using the opportunity to celebrate those families who have come together through adoption but also for potential new families that might be considering adoption as an option.

“Adoption fills a role in society for children who are unable to grow up in their families of origin,” said executive director Karen Madeiros. “The biggest difference is you’re making a commitment to parent children who have two sets of parents, who have two families.”

In addition to the Ministry of Children and Families, there are four licensed adoption agencies in the province which can provide opportunity for different types of adoption, such as international adoption.

However, the ministry generally deals with children in families where the right to look after the child is terminated.

At any given time, the ministry can have 800 to 1,000 children in care, some in assessment, and others waiting for adoption, Madeiros said.

Approximately half of those children are of aboriginal or Metis descent, which poses difficulty when trying to place them in culturally similar homes.

“It’s tough to do, you’ve got five to 10 per cent of the B.C. population that are aboriginal, but they make up 50 per cent of the kids in care,” Madeiros said.

While some children only remain in the system for a period of 18 months, it is not uncommon for children to wait between eight and 12 years in foster care for a home, which can result in trauma and additional care issues that must be met by an adoptive parent.

“These kids are going to need many adults to raise them,” Madeiros said. “In the adoption community we believe these kids are worth it.”

B.C. Adoption was created as a resource for those individuals, providing workshops and support to new and potential adopters.

On Dec. 1, Heather Phillips will be celebrating the eight-year anniversary of her adoption of Michael, 12, and Michael’s sister, Arianna, 9.

Phillips was only 21 when she decided to adopt Michael, whom her parents were fostering.

Her family has fostered children since she was three years old.

“I just knew that I could give Michael a home that was loving, and I knew I could help give him a forever home so he wouldn’t be bounced around the system,” she said. “I can’t imagine life any other way. There’s days that it’s hard as a single parent, but I have lots of support from my family and friends and the kids are amazing.”

Phillips held a common misconception that as a single mother she would be denied the opportunity to adopt.

But she was successful, and also had the opportunity to adopt Arianna, who was conceived during the adoption process.

“It was a little bit of a shock at first,” she said.

Phillips has a bachelor’s degree in child and youth care and is currently working on advancing her education in speech and language pathology.

Joel Martinflatt said the process with their daughter has been a positive one and encourages other families to look into adopting.

“A lot of people get scared away by adoption, but there are so many incredible kids waiting for a forever family,” he said.

“It seems scary to think about the situations in which they may have come from, but they’re just children and they’re beautiful and wonderful and resilient,” added Ashleigh.

“You don’t have to be this specially trained person to do this, you just have to be willing to be a parent.”

For more information on adopting through the Ministry of Children and Families, call 1-877-236-7807.

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