CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – February 4 was a happy day for the Smith family. It’s the day that they finally get to adopt their son after they’ve been fostering him for about two years.
“I’ve always wanted to foster, and I went through my life and thought, eh, I might do it someday,” Leah Smith recalled, “And then, a family friend told me that Silas was in foster care when he was about three weeks old, and I thought, you know what, I’ll just do it right now.”
Leah rushed to get licensed before she could foster Silas. She was able to start fostering him when he was eight months old. She explained that from the moment they met, she knew she wanted to adopt him. After a long journey, Tuesday was a celebration for the whole family, who is also smitten with Silas.
“When that judge signs, I think what I’ll do is sit and cry. I’m just so happy. I’m just so very happy,” said Susan Smith, Leah’s mother.
Silas was in foster care for 1,338 days, which Leah said is rare in West Virginia. She also said Silas was 40% delayed across the board and nonverbal when she started taking care of him.
“At 18 months old, he couldn’t sit himself up after a diaper change,” explained Leah, “so Birth to Three had me working with his core muscles and trying to get him to be able to do a simple task like that. And now, he can keep a gas-powered dirt bike up. He stands on it; he kicks his legs back. I mean, he is incredibly talented. He just needed somebody who cared and put a little bit of effort into him.”
Susan said that Silas was able to turn around with lots of prayer and Leah’s constant attention.
“When we first got him, because of the drug issues, there was a lot of screaming and tantrums,” explained Susan, “and I’m a minister. I travel all over the world, so I remember when I got home from Poland and Israel, I kept him for her for one night, and I held him, and I sung to him, and I prayed for him that the Lord would take the memories away so that he could have a happy life, and a whole life, and be whole all over. And, the temper tantrums are now what you would consider normal for a three-year-old. They’re occasional. They’re not all the time.”
According to DHHR reports, the number of foster care children has increased nearly 40% in the past eight years. In 2018, stats from the DHHR website said that 83% of open child abuse and neglect cases in the state involve drugs. And with the isolation related to the pandemic, the American Medical Association said that the drug crisis is even more of a concern. These conditions make foster parenting even more important right now.
“Even if you just get licensed right now, you can wait to open your home until you’re ready. But with NECCO, all our classes are online, so you can literally do it from home, so it’s incredibly easy to start,” Leah said, “It takes about nine weeks, and that way–like with Silas, I already knew he was there, and I was trying to get through the process as fast as I could to get him. But if I had already gone through the process and been licensed, it would have been a simple walk-through of my house and they would’ve dropped them off. So I think, had I realized how easy it was, I would’ve done it a lot sooner.”
Susan said she’s proud of her daughter, and she’s happy to do her part to help Leah raise Silas and other foster kids.
“He has brought more joy to our worlds than what we could have ever imagined. I didn’t know how much joy being a grandparent would bring to me, and it has brought immeasurable things,” Susan said, “He didn’t know how to open a present when we first got him – It’s nothing like seeing his eyes light up, and now that he knows how to open presents if you see his room, you will see that it’s a toy store…because that’s what grandparents do. We spoil. We love, and we spoil.”
In addition to being a foster parent, Leah is also a recruiter at NECCO, a child welfare organization that provides foster care and adoption services.
If anyone is interested in taking the first step to becoming a foster parent, Leah Smith said she would answer any questions you have, and you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.