BY J. EDWARD MORENO
Updated 12:13 p.m. Tuesday
Mary, a 4-year-old avid Peppa Pig fan, has spent most of her life in foster care before being adopted Aug. 13. Last Monday was her first day of Head Start.
After getting past those first day of school jitters, class has been great, she said. She has plenty of new friends and though she’s still learning how to read, she has several favorite books now.
Mary, whose real name is being withheld to protect her identity, was first introduced to the foster care system when she was 6 months old. Her biological mother, who also spent time in the foster care system, struggled with drug abuse, according to Mary’s adoption specialist.
While under the influence, the specialist said, her mother would leave her unattended or at times leave unannounced for weeks. Mary was placed in temporary foster care on three separate occasions before Child Protective Services began searching for a permanent home.
Meanwhile, Marcos and Veronica Sanchez, a Mercedes couple, spent the past few years chasing their dream of having a big family together.
Adoption proved the best option for the couple, and they ended up at the Buckner International office in Harlingen seeking information. Buckner is one of about 13 adoption agencies active in the Rio Grande Valley.
Couples like the Sanchezes attend classes to teach them how to interact and care for children who come from troubled homes. They eventually became foster parents for Mary and hoped she would be able to stay with them.
CPS first looks for relatives willing to take in the children. If that isn’t a feasible option, foster parents may adopt the child. For almost a year the Sanchezes didn’t know if they would be able to adopt Mary.
After months of fostering, the Sanchezes adopted two boys — one 11 and the other 10 — on March 30 while still fostering Mary. On Aug. 13, she officially became their daughter, too.
The family likes to go on camping and fishing trips together. The oldest boy is in football, his younger brother is in band and Mary is starting cheer camp soon. All three like to play cell phone games while their parents and other adults have boring conversations.
“It’s been great,” Marcos Sanchez said of parenting. “Now you look forward to the holidays and birthdays… If they’re happy, we’re happy.”
A common misconception is that you need to be wealthy in order to adopt, Veronica Sanchez said. There are many who may be unaware that they’re eligible to adopt or foster a child.
“All they need is love and attention,” she said.
Nelida Tristan, supervisor for Buckner Rio Grande Valley Foster Care and Adoption, said that misconception has led to a lack of foster homes in the Valley, particularly those willing to take on more troubled demographics.
Teenagers are at a higher risk of aging out of the system. With nowhere to go at 18 years old, 88 percent of them likely become victims of sex trafficking, according to the National Center for Missing Exploited Children, or NCMEC.
“We really need homes for teenagers,” Tristan said. “It breaks my heart to see them…They need to be given a chance.”
In 2017, over 19,000 kids in Texas were removed from their homes because of neglect and abuse, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective services. Of those children, 904 were in Valley counties. With Buckner alone, there are 102 children currently up for adoption.
But for Mary, none of those statistics, or even the fact that she is officially adopted now, is particularly important. She just wants to know that she won’t have to leave her family, ever.
“I’m going to live here forever and ever, right?” the girl tends to ask her parents.
“Yes, mija, forever,” they assured Mary.
Those seeking information on how to foster or adopt a child in Texas can visit: https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Adoption_and_Foster_Care/About_Foster_Care.
“We really need homes for teenagers. It breaks my heart to see them…They need to be given a chance.” — Nelida Tristan, supervisor for Buckner Rio Grande Valley Foster Care and Adoption
This story was updated to correctly attribute the sex trafficking statistic to the National Center for Missing Exploited Children.