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Adopting older child 'resonated' for Windsor Township family
The holiday season is a time to think about family, and two years ago Angela Uhler was inspired to grow hers in a unique way.
"It sounds pretty cheesy," she said. "We were watching an American Girl movie called ('Samantha: An American Girl Holiday'), and it tells the story of how a girl lost her parents and how she moved in with her friend after struggling in an orphanage. I mean we had talked about it before, adopting that is, maybe internationally or something like that, but this really resonated."
The film inspired Uhler, a chief nurse with WellSpan, and her husband, Jeff Uhler, an engineer, to research adopting an older child rather than an infant, she said. They live in Windsor Township and have one biological daughter.
Across Pennsylvania, more than 3,000 children and teens are in the foster care and adoption system.
But most families want babies or younger children, so there's always a need to find families for these older kids, said Denise Roe, the site director of Diakon Adoption & Foster Care's South Central Pennsylvania Office.
Diakon, which helped connect the Uhlers with 13-year-old Tori, is a nonprofit adoption foster care agency with three offices, including a South George Street office that serves York County.
"We work with these children to help them find a sense of permanency by matching them with either kin or families looking to adopt," Roe said. "These foster children are mostly from the county or nearby, and we find families that are willing to take them in."
The process: The Uhlers in December 2013 decided to look into adoption with Diakon, and on the first of January signed up for foster parent courses requiring two weekends of all-day classes.
After consulting their then-9-year-old daughter, Grace, the family decided to look for a child between the ages of 7 and 12, specifically one looking for a permanent home, Uhler said.
They were then tasked with creating a family biography so they could be paired with children who would match their lifestyle. The children in the system also had to complete profiles about themselves, Roe said.
"It was kind of like a dating situation," Uhler joked.
While Tori was out of the age range of what they initially had hoped, Uhler said she felt drawn to her.
"At first we just were unsure. She was out of that age range, and they don't have day care for 13-year-olds, and we wanted to find the right fit," she said. "Were we ready for a teenager? Definitely not, but I just kept reading her profile over and over, and she had so many similarities to our family that we decided to get to know her."
Meeting: The Uhlers first met with Tori's caseworker to confirm they were serious about the adoption.
"She and her siblings were with another family that was willing to adopt them, but all of them together were too much, so she was put back in the system," Uhler said. "We really wanted to make sure that this was going to work."
The Uhlers moved on to meet Tori and then began speaking on the phone with her, and in the end, Tori decided they would be the right fit for her as well.
She moved in in August 2014, just before the start of school.
"It was a whirlwind," Uhler said. "No lie, this girl is rolling into our house with just a bag on her back; she had bounced from home to home since her mother died. And we pretty much had to be like, 'Here's your room, now time to get ready for junior high.'"
One year later: Tori moved in with the Uhlers unsure of whether she was going to finish high school.
"Now we're setting up a fund for her for post-high school education; it's kind of nice to see her evolve now that someone is backing her up," Uhler said.
The Uhlers have gone through family therapy to strengthen themselves and to better adjust, she said.
"We're very fortunate that we've made some good matches," Roe said. "We try to support the families after and make sure they have everything they need — we do supervised visits and try to support them in all of their endeavors."
The Red Lion Area School District also offered a lot of support for the family, Uhler said.
"It feels as if she's always been here," she said. "And she's come so far already."
Info session: Diakon Adoption & Foster Care staff is offering an information session for people interested in learning more about providing child foster care and adoption at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, at the Dover Community Library, 3700 Davidsburg Road.
For more information, visit www.diakon.org.