Ed. Note: This story previously appeared on the AdoptUsKids and ACF websites. View the posting on the ACF Family Room Blog.
Barry Farmer's family is unusual, but not just because he is black and his son is white.
Although, he admits, that is pretty unusual.
“I would have never thought in a million years that I would adopt a white child,” he said with a laugh. He tells his son, Darrell, 10, that their family is unique. “You probably won't see anybody like us in your lifetime. It's rare.”
“I have no problem adopting outside of my race,” he said. “Everybody deserves love and deserves a family.”
The heart, he said, knows no color. Farmer's extended family embraced Darrell with open arms.
“He fits right in. He doesn't look like he fits in, but he fits in,” Farmer said. “He's like a little rock star when he goes to my aunt's house. When they hear he is coming, they get so excited.”
Becoming a Foster Parent
Farmer's route to becoming an adoptive parent didn't have many detours. Not only is Farmer single, he is also 25 years old. He started the process to become a foster parent when he was 20.
“I've never been the type of guy to party or go to the club,” he said. “I wanted a family. I wanted a child to take care of and to show them different things and share experiences with them before I got too old.”
When he first considered fostering, he didn't think beyond providing a temporary, loving home to a child in need.
“I just thought foster kids go back to their birth families, or they move along,” he said.
Farmer describes the early stages of the process for him as “going out on a limb.” At the time, he was working in a daycare and knew it was his calling to work with youth. Now Farmer is a behavioral counselor working with children with emotional issues.
“I thought this was the perfect chance to make a difference,” he said. He saw an ad in the newspaper for foster parent training and investigated. Although he was young, he said the social worker with whom he met saw potential in him.
Part of the desire to become a foster parent was his own experience of his grandmother raising him after his birth mother neglected him and his siblings.
“I know the feeling to have nothing, to be hopeless,” he said. “I knew I could relate to these kids on that level and give them hope, some light at the end of the tunnel to show them they can come out of it.”
He credits his grandmother with helping him become the man he is today.
“Living with my grandmother, she taught me independence, to go out into the world,” Farmer said. “She taught me to mingle with different people, to not just stick to one characteristic of people, to broaden your horizons.”
His first foster placement, when Farmer was 21, was a teenager who arrived at Farmer's apartment on his 16th birthday.
The teen was considered a “high risk placement,” Farmer said, and stayed for eight months.
Farmer said he did well, and formed a tight bond with the youth. Ultimately, however, the teen was moved to a residence that could attend to his special needs.
“I hated to see him go,” Farmer said.
A month later, he received an email about a 7-year-old boy named Darrell.
“I only got to meet him for 30 minutes,” Farmer said. “By the end of the week he was in my home and has never left.”
Transitioning From Fostering to Adopting
At first, Farmer believed the arrangement was temporary. Then Darrell began calling Farmer “Dad,” and their bond grew strong.
When Darrell received word that his mother had her parental rights terminated, Farmer's heart broke along with his son's.
“I could see the hurt in his face,” Farmer said.
The time came for Darrell to leave Farmer's house, and he was placed with a potential adoptive family that caseworkers believed fit his needs.
“I was absolutely distraught,” Farmer said. “I didn't know I was going to be that upset. I was physically sick. I love that kid. That kid should be with me.”
Although on paper it appeared Darrell's new family would have been a great fit – he had said he wanted a mother, a father, and a brother – Darrell lasted a week before wanting to return to Farmer.
The caseworker called Farmer and asked if he was interested in adoption.
“Me?” Farmer remembers saying. “Yeah, show me the papers, we can do that tomorrow. I love that kid.”
The next time he saw Darrell, the boy ran to him and jumped in his arms.
Farmer has shifted his focus away from solely fostering, and is interested in adopting as many as two more children. He recently located a boy from Pennsylvania on AdoptUSKids’ photolisting of waiting children, and met with him this month.
“I don't take kids just to give them back,” Farmer said. “If I don't like what he is doing, I want to help him improve.”
Engaging African American Families to Foster and Adopt
The key to engaging African American families in foster care and adoption, Farmer said, is to help families gain a better understanding of the children in the system and to stop believing the “horror stories.”
“It takes really understanding what is going on with the children,” he said. “To put themselves in those kids' shoes, and then they can understand that they can make a real difference.”
The children, Farmer said, have something to say.
“The problem is nobody is listening. When somebody hears them, they start to feel better. They start to heal and start to move on. If more African American families understood that, they would jump at the opportunity to foster or adopt. If they truly understood that all they have to do sometimes is listen to them.”
After talking to Darrell about their family, and how it feels to be in a mixed-ethnicity home, Darrell is happy with his forever family.
“He says, 'I'm glad I'm different, I like to stick out now,'” Farmer said, recalling Darrell's words. “'I get to show people what love really is.'”
AdoptUSKids is a service of the U.S. Children’s Bureau and has been in operation since 2002 by the Adoption Exchange Association under a cooperative agreement (grant #90CQ0003). The mission of AdoptUSKids is two-fold: to raise public awareness about the need for foster and adoptive families for children in the public child welfare system; and to assist U.S. States, Territories, and Tribes to recruit and retain foster and adoptive families and connect them with children.