As a single mother in her 30s with a grown son, she defied foster care statistics when she welcomed a child with special needs into her home and then opened her door to the boy’s two brothers as well. Then, when she chose to adopt all three boys—each with developmental disorders—she outdid herself.
Becoming a foster parent is a rewarding, albeit major decision. Finding placements for children with special needs can be more difficult, because potential foster parents sometimes have preconceived notions that these children are more difficult to manage, says Bruce McClary, a social worker with the Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC) Program at Kennedy Krieger Institute, which works specifically with kids with special needs. Add brothers and sisters to the mix, and the odds overwhelmingly favor sibling separation and multiple placements.
But Erica Carter is no ordinary foster parent.
Of course, for any foster program, the primary goal is always to find a permanent home for the children in question. In the meantime, it’s important for children—especially those with special needs—to have a stable home environment. That’s where foster parents come in, and it’s why the TFC program works hard to provide foster families with the training and resources they need. All a potential family needs is a desire to help and a capacity to love and care for a child in need. And Erica had all of the above—in abundance.
“Erica is very rare,” McClary says. “As a single mom, she demonstrated skills and patience beyond her years. She not only identified a group of siblings herself, but she actually adopted them,” McClary says. “That happens less than one percent of the time.”
While eager to help as a foster parent, Erica had never thought seriously about adopting a child, let alone three boys with developmental disabilities. But then she met Marcus through another social services agency she was involved with. He was the first to enter her home in 2006, when he was 9 years old.
Shortly after Marcus came into her care, the foster care agency she was working with at the time said they could not handle his case, because they were not equipped for children with special needs. Fortunately, someone directed her to Kennedy Krieger, where she connected with their Therapeutic Foster Care Program and team of social workers.
Erica realized the importance of keeping the brothers together and not long after she took in Marcus and transitioned to Kennedy Krieger, she welcomed the other boys, one by one, into her home. And so, next came Marcus’ brother Damon, then 5 years old, and later Sean, then age 8. Over the next two years, she successfully adopted all three of them. It was, she says, an easy decision.
“They were already my children,” Erica says. “They were in my home, I was taking care of them and loving them. This just made sense.”
She has also undertaken their entire education. Because one of the three boys has severe autism, he attends a public school in a special education program that can address his learning needs. But, concerned about whether public schools could fully meet her other two adopted sons’ special needs, Erica teaches them herself. “She has worked really hard,” McClary says, “at making a home for these kids and getting them the help that they need.”