WASHINGTON, D.C. (FinalCall.com)–When most couples in their late 50’s are welcoming the empty nest and planning for retirement, Clifton and Alberta Muhammad wanted something different. They had a big house and a lot of love, but their three sons were grown and gone. So they decided to become foster parents.
“We got a call one night from the social worker. She said she had some children that needed a home. She asked us if we could help them. She asked us if we could take in four children,” Mr. Muhammad told The Final Call. “We said yes.”
That call led to a temporary arrangement of foster care at that time for Tasha, 2, Vincent, 3, Lorenzo, 4 and Keith, 8. The arrangement lasted for three years. “The social worker called me and said they had found a home for the children. I was happy for them until she told me that they would be split up into different homes,” said Mrs. Muhammad. “I thought they would be together.” Keeping siblings together is one of the challenges of finding homes for siblings. Many families seeking to adopt want one child, maybe two, but four for some is more than they can handle.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month and one of its goals is to help the community understand the need for more families to adopt siblings, which are considered a special need.
“Despite the progress we have made in increasing our adoption rate, we still have much work to do. More than 130,000 children, ranging from toddlers to teenagers, still remain in foster care awaiting adoption. While foster parents offer temporary essential care, the children for whom they care need the stability of a permanent family,” said President George Bush in remarks about National Adoption Awareness Month.
“It is often challenging to find families for older children and those children who have special needs. Yet they deserve a future with a nurturing family.”
That’s what the Muhammads are, a nurturing family. For them, it just seemed the right thing to do.
“I couldn’t see them being separated. We had worked so hard to keep them together as a family for three years and to then have them separated was too much for me to bear,” said Mrs. Muhammad.
They asked the social worker to consider them as adoptive parents.
“She told me it would be a long process; I told her I didn’t care how long it took. I just didn’t want them split up,” said Mrs. Muhammad.
The home study
The long process starts with the home study. It can make or break an adoption process. Those interested in adoption need to approach it with patience and care. According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC), the home study creates a report about the prospective parents’ personal and family background, motivation to adopt, family environment, physical and health history, education, employment, finances, child care plans, references and a criminal background check.
Parents can expedite the process by completing the forms as soon as possible, schedule medical appointments immediately and gather the necessary documents.
“It only took me six weeks to get everything done,” said Aishah Muhammad, who adopted her son Mustafa when he was six weeks old. “I talked to the supervisors directly and told them what I was trying to do. I also called then Congressman Kweisi Mfume’s office for their assistance. Within six weeks, I was fully cleared. The adoption agency I worked with was surprised at how quickly it went through.”
The cost of the home study also varies from free with a local government agency to a range of $1,000 to $2,500 with a private agency, according to the NAIC. The fees may be waived or reduced for children with special needs. Many agencies allow the fees to be paid in installments.
From foster care to adoption
Tasha, Vincent, Lorenzo and Keith came with numerous problems. Their mother had been unable to care for them. They often slept under tables at a local McDonald’s restaurant.
“When they came to us, the little ones couldn’t even count. They didn’t seem to have any education at all. It was a unique experience for me, but we just took those children in and made them our own,” said Clifton Muhammad.
The transition for the children from life on the street to a stable home life was guided by a lot of love. For the younger ones, their memory was short and the good times with their new family quickly replaced the bad memories.
For Keith, it wasn’t so easy. He was filled with anger and resentment.
“He was really angry at his mother for giving them away,” said Alberta Muhammad.
So when it came time to adopt, the social worker suggested that the Muhammads only adopt the younger three children.
“She felt that Keith’s anger would eventually rub off on the other children. He was angry and upset at his life. We adopted the three little ones and Keith went to another foster home,” said Mrs. Muhammad.
“That wasn’t the end, though. We stay in contact and he comes to visit his brothers and sister. I’m still his mama. He’ll be 18 in April and we’re proud of his progress,” she said.
Age is just a number
It’s been said that age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. In this case, the age of the Muhammads didn’t matter when they adopted in their early 60s.
People will see them with the children and make comments about their grandchildren.
“I say, that’s not my grandmother,” said Tasha, with a look that means you better get it right. “That’s my mother.”
When the children are with the Muhammads’ grown sons, people ask, “Is that your father?”
They respond with smiles, “That’s not my father, that’s my brother.”
When all is quiet and the lights are out, the Muhammads have time to reflect on their decision to refill the nest and forgo the traditional retirement that many of their friends are enjoying. Would they do it again?
“I feel happy that I was able to help these children. I would do it again and again and again,” said Mr. Muhammad.
(Share your adoption story with The Final Call. In 100 words or less, tell us about your adoption experience as a birth mother, an adopted child, a sibling of an adopted child or an adoptive parent. Send your story and a photo to [email protected].)