It was Dec. 2, 2015, and Tasha Lockhart was at work when she got the phone call she’d been waiting for.
A 16-month-old girl needed placement after being removed from her home by child welfare workers. Could the Lockharts take her?
She quickly left work, and not an hour later was standing in the middle of a Target, hastily googling on her smartphone “What foods do 16-month-olds eat?” A few hours after that, Tasha drove with her mother to Auburn to meet Mia for the first time.
“I got her out of her car seat. She put her arms straight out to me,” Tasha said. “I sat in the backseat with her on the way home … She just kind of just stared at me.”
“We were both two strangers meeting each other.”
Tasha's first day with Mia.
It had only been about six months from the time Tasha broached the idea of adoption with her husband, Aaron, to the night she carried Mia through their door as a new foster mother.
But in many ways they’d been preparing for years. Tasha's two sisters had both adopted children, one through private adoption and another through the foster care system.
“We had seen how much beauty there is in building a family based purely on loyalty,” Tasha said.
They had checked off all the boxes: stable jobs, a home purchased on a quaint street in Roseville. They both knew parenthood was in their future. So when Tasha asked Aaron how he felt about adoption, the answer was swift: “I’d be down for that.”
It wasn’t quite so simple, of course. The Lockharts quickly decided to try to adopt through the foster care system, due to the great need. But that decision came with its own set of fears. Would the child be so damaged by abuse or neglect that he or she would be beyond their help? Would they fall in love with a child only to say goodbye if reunification with the biological family was successful?
“It’s a scary thing going in,” Aaron said.
They reached out to a local agency, Families for Children, and began the certification process: a regimen of classes, home checks and interviews with social workers.
“They really try to get you to think of it from the perspective of a child and what they've been through. You really focus on the child which is sort of a theme throughout the whole process,” Aaron said.
The foster care system in California has undergone dramatic changes following the 2015 passage of Continuum of Care Reform, a state law that aims to create more stability for children in the foster system.
One major result of this reform has been the closure of many group home facilities — including the former children's emergency shelter in Placer County — and more emphasis placed on home-based care, creating more demand for foster families. The foster family approval process has also transformed.
“It's a more seamless process now,” said Kristin Siles, a Placer County supervisor in the Children’s System of Care who worked on the Lockharts’ case. “In the past, if you were fostering and got to the point of adoption, you’d have to go through a home study and there was a whole other process to go through that could take a long time. Now it’s all upfront.”
That means people wanting to become “resource families” — the new term for foster parents used to better reflect their relationship with the child — undergo a more intense screening process at the onset. But should a child be unable to reunify with their biological family, the transition to adoption is much faster and smoother.
“Being reunified with the [biological] parent is always our first and foremost goal,” Siles said. “But if that can’t happen, then the next best thing is that they get adopted into a family that's going to be their forever family.”
In Mia’s case, no biological family members were able to take her when she was removed from her parents’ home, so child welfare staff looked for a foster family who could potentially provide permanency if needed. They found the Lockharts.
Aaron bonds with Mia shortly after her arrival in 2015.
The first night, and many nights after it, were difficult for Mia.
When Tasha picked her up, Mia had a bottle with her — nothing more. There were no other signs of what she might like or dislike.
“It was just a learning process getting to know her,” Tasha said.
Her husband was in Phoenix on business, so for the first night, Tasha just tried to calm Mia, giving her a bottle of milk and a lavender bath.
Aaron remembers walking in the door at 7 p.m. the next evening, bursting with excitement.
“What I found was a tired, traumatized child,” he said. “I could see in her eyes that I was a stranger to her. I don't know what I expected. I realized that this was a tough time for her, and for some reason that surprised me.”
In those early months, there were emotional outbursts and fits of crying that seemed to never stop. It was particularly difficult when visitations with her biological parents disrupted her routine and sleep patterns.
The Lockharts pulled from resources that their social worker offered, but in the end, Tasha said, it was “hug therapy” and love, plain and simple, that seemed to turn the tide.
“It's difficult watching anybody grieve but specially a child who you know hasn't done anything to deserve any type of pain,” Aaron said. “Love is an amazing medicine.”
Mia also had some developmental delays, particularly with speech. She began special therapy.
“We've been provided a massive amount of resources, from the school district and from the state and county, to help her,” Aaron said.
And slowly, Mia began to show signs of improvement. The first name she said was Bane — her cousin.
She was “blossoming,” Aaron said.