Building the bond

Choir director adopts foster child

Joni+Stephenson+poses+for+a+picture+with+her+daughter%2C+Maria.+Stephen+fostered+Maria+for+two+years+until+she+was+finally+able+to+adopt+her+in+November.

Photo by Rachel Lewis

Joni Stephenson poses for a picture with her daughter, Maria. Stephen fostered Maria for two years until she was finally able to adopt her in November.

Story by Anna Cannon, feature editor

A child’s first words are usually the same: ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ coaxed out by enthusiastic parents who want the best for their baby. But sometimes, ‘mama’ is someone new. Sometimes, paperwork and adoption certificates replace blood, and ‘mama’ becomes someone who looks completely different, but loves her new child all the same.

Choir teacher Joni Stephenson adopted her foster daughter on Nov. 20, after fostering her for two years.

“Our daughter’s name is Maria,” Stephenson said. “We’re fostering through Child Protective Services, and she happened to become available for adoption. We’ve had her since she was 1, and now she’s 3.“

For Stephenson and her husband, becoming foster parents was the obvious choice. They also knew that if any of their foster children became available for adoption, they wouldn’t hesitate to adopt them.

“We started fostering because we knew we wanted to be parents, and we couldn’t do that naturally,” Stephenson said. “Maria was our first foster child, and it just happened to be that she was available for adoption.”

Just like any parent, Stephenson has high hopes for her daughter’s future and has remained honest with Maria about her situation.

“I hope that she grows up to be a good citizen and helpful in society,” Stephenson said. “Even though she’s only 3, we’ve told her that she’s adopted. She knows ‘Nov. 20, I got to be adopted,’ but of course she doesn’t know what that means. We definitely have no intentions of ever hiding that from her.”

For many, fostering creates an image of sadness, as many children leave their foster parents to return to their biological families. However, Stephenson resolves to see the positive side and is willing to help her daughter get in touch with her biological mother if she wishes.

“We’re never upset if a child ends up going home, because that’s really the ultimate goal,” Stephenson said. “If Maria ever asks to see her biological mom, if we can make that happen, we would.”

Stephenson has learned to balance the ups and downs of fostering and finds comfort in the fact that what she does is for the greater good.

“[Being a foster parent] is hard but then joyful, and that’s where the hard becomes better,” Stephenson said. “It’s hard because the kids come from different situations, and they’re stuck in with us whether they want to be or not. But we find joy in the fact that we’re able to help out the family that needs us.”