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Forming networks and relationships key step before you adopt
For families thinking of adoption, not only is forming networks and being informed ideal, it's a must, says Cowichan's Sherri Cleugh.
If anyone knows a thing or too about adoption, it's her.
In total, she has seven children — three biological kids ages 13 to 18, and four others, ranging now from ages 14 to 30.
"If you're thinking about adoption, you have to reach out to other people who've adopted and you have to form that network," Cleugh, 44, explained.
Cleugh and husband Dave began their journey into adoption in the mid-'90s when they attended a seminar on the subject by the Ministries of Children and Families. Sherri was 26 at the time, and pregnant with son Daelen.
Inspired by the seminar, they almost immediately began fostering children, a process that eventually led to their foster children formally becoming part of their family.
For the Cleugh family, adoption was simply giving back.
"It needs to start at home," Cleugh explained. "Then it sort of mushrooms to giving back to the community, and then giving to your country and even globally. "(Dave) is a very hands-on dad and the support has been amazing," she said.
And besides reaching out to those who've been through the adoption process, Cleugh advises interested parents to contact Cathy Gilbert of the Adoptive Families Association of B.C.
Gilbert monitors a 1-800 line for folks looking for general information, and also assists families through the adoption steps.
"My job is to support families," she said.
In B.C., adoptions can happen through independent agencies and provincial ministries. Agencies charge adoption fees for their service, while adoptions done through the province are free.
Before families begin the process, they're run through criminal record and past ministry-involvement checks and are required to get a doctor's note proving good health. The next phase is putting hopeful parents through their education program.
Courses are sometimes spread over one night a week, or bunched together over weekends, depending on the area and travel times, explained Gilbert, who's worked for the association on and off for 10 years. Parents are asked to consider things like a prospective child's age, cultural background and/or disabilities. They are also given a clear picture of the responsibility they are taking on.
This phase acts as what Gilbert calls a "funnel," and "one that's wide at the end. There are people that get into the education process and decide, 'Nope, this isn't for me,'" Gilbert said.
But there are folks who finish and are even more motivated than they were before.
For them, next up is a home study.
Agency or ministry workers look at how you were parented as a child, the reasons you want to adopt, and whether or not you are ready emotionally, Gilbert said. Folks with little experience with kids are sometimes asked to volunteer with children first.
A report is written and then the matching process begins. And that's where the wait begins too.
"Depending on age or special needs, it can take a week or sometimes a couple years," Gilbert said.
Parents are provided with a small amount of information about the child, and if they'd like to go forward they're provided with a large package of information, sometimes a box full of documents.
Besides her work through the adoption association as an adoption support co-ordinator, Gilbert has a wealth of knowledge based on her own experience. She's adopted 12 children, 11 through the ministry and one through an agency.
"We didn't set out to adopt that many, it just kind of happened," she said.
Sherri and Dave, meanwhile, have been married now for 21 years. Their family is certainly busy in the community, whether it's with church, cadets, candy striping or the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association. Being active helps keeps them sane, Cleugh said, and family life is incredibly fulfilling.
"It's really all about time management too," she said. "So far, we're incredibly blessed and extremely grateful. The best thing for these kids is to be adopted, and to have a forever home."
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Cowichan Tribes active partner in adoptions
Sherri and Dave Cleugh's life-changing journey has a unique co-pilot — Cowichan Tribes, one of only two tribes across Canada that can act as an official adoption agency.
After a process of many years, they have adopted three children through Tribes. Tribes, meanwhile, adopted them into their culture, with a special ceremony and steady invitations to local First Nations events and celebrations.
Gilbert, 18, Chelsea, 16, and Kayla, 14, all siblings adopted through Cowichan Tribes, attend Daughters/Sons of Tradition classes, as well as many Tribes' events.
Cleugh explained culture is key in adopting a child with First Nations background.
"We let them learn it and we teach them as much as we can," she said.