Local family shares their experience with foster care, adoption

Last updated: August 16. 2014 10:36PM - 3869 Views
By - smocarsky@timesleader.com

Lorine and Michael Ogurkis spend some time with their adopted child Michael Jr., 2, and informally adopted daughter, Brittany, 20, during an interview about foster care and adoption at their home in Conyngham. The couple also has three other children — Dyllan, 14, Delainy, 10, and Julia, 9.
Lorine and Michael Ogurkis spend some time with their adopted child Michael Jr., 2, and informally adopted daughter, Brittany, 20, during an interview about foster care and adoption at their home in Conyngham. The couple also has three other children — Dyllan, 14, Delainy, 10, and Julia, 9.
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Ceil Bartolai, social service coordinator for Luzerne County Children and Youth Services, provided some basic information about foster parenting — also called resource parenting — and adoption.

Q. Who can become a foster parent?

A. Anyone 21 or older who is “willing to open up about their lives and share their biography,” can provide an adequate and safe dwelling for a child, has sufficient and stable income and can pass required background checks, can become a foster parent. “For the most part, they just need to be able to open up their home and love a child. We're not looking for perfect, we're looking for love,” Bartolai said.

Q. Do I have to be married?

A. No. Single adults can become foster and/or adoptive parents.

Q. Is there financial assistance available for foster parents?

A. Yes, a $24-per-day stipend is available for each child placed into foster care, regardless of other income, and Children and Youth Services pays for clothing, medical and dental needs. A permanent stipend is available after adoption for children who fall into certain categories, such as older teens, children of mixed race and multiple-sibling adoptions.

Q. Does foster care always result in adoption?

A. No. Many times, children are reunited with their parent(s) or are permanently placed with a family member or relative.

Q. When can the adoption process begin for a foster parent?

A. Adoption can begin after the termination of parental rights has occurred, either voluntarily or involuntarily, which can take 15 to 22 months from initial placement of a child into foster care. Children and Youth handles the termination process.

Q. Where can I learn more and have additional questions answered?

A. There are several resources available:

• Call Luzerne County Children and Youth Services at 570-826-8710 and/or visit www.cysluzerne.org and click on the Resources link.

• Call Catholic Social services at 1-800-465-0578 or 570-455-1521 and/or visit www.cssdioceseofscranton.org.

• Call the Statewide Adoption Network at 1-800-585-SWAN and/or visit www.adoptpakids.org.

• Call the Families United Network at 1-800-677-9771 and/or visit www.families4kids.org.

• Call Loftus-Vergari and Associates at 570-822-9706 and/or visit www.loftus-vergari.com.

• Call the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption at 1-800-ASK-DTFA and/or visit www.davethomasfoundation.org.

• Call Lorine Ogurkis at 570-926-5117 or find her on Facebook under Lori Angelo Ogurkis.

After trying unsuccessfully to conceive for several years, Lorine and Michael Ogurkis made two decisions: they would adopt a child, but they would not let the adoption process bankrupt them.
Fortunately, both choices were possible for the Conyngham Borough couple. In Luzerne County, about 30 children are placed into the foster care system every month, and another 30 come out of the system, either through reunification with their parent or parents or through adoption.
On July 31, 2012, Lorine, 40, and Michael, 39, who already had three children from previous marriages, took a newborn boy into their home as a foster child and quickly began the adoption process.
They knew from the moment they first laid eyes upon him that it was the right decision.
“When I walked into that hospital room and saw him in the crib, I said, 'Where have you been? I've been looking for you so long,'” Lorine said.
And as they navigated through the adoption process, the couple's eyes were opened to the incredible need for foster and adoptive parents in this region.
There are about 400 children from Luzerne County, newborns to 19-year-olds, currently in foster care, according to figures provided by Luzerne County Children and Youth Services.
That realization prompted Lorine and Michael to do something to help these children as well as couples who desperately want a child but can't conceive.
And as fate would have it, Michael Jr. would not be the only new addition to their family.
'You have me'
Lorine, a corporate attorney, was so excited while going through the adoption process, she couldn't help but share her joy with her students at Luzerne County Community College, where she is an adjunct professor.
“It was right in the middle of when I was adopting Michael that I was speaking about, 'Oh, you know, I'm in this process,' because I was so overwhelmed that there were so many children available in our community that I just kept raving and raving. I would show pictures and say how great he is,” Lorine said during a recent interview in the family's home.
It was in one of her classes that Lorine met Brittany, then a 19-year-old paralegal student.
“I noticed her the first time that I was in class. She came in and she was just stunningly beautiful. It was funny because whenever I talked about Michael and the foster care system, her head would pop up,” Lorine said. “Eventually, she felt comfortable enough to come up to me and say, 'You know, I was in foster care.'”
But Brittany's experience was was much different than Michael Jr.'s, in that she didn't have a permanent home or a sense of belonging with anybody while she was in the system, Lorine said.
“She said to me, 'Do you know what it's like to know that if I died tomorrow, it really wouldn't matter to anyone?' And I was struck, because here, I heard my son speaking out of Brittany's mouth and I saw that there was no difference. He could have become her. And then I just said, 'You know, we're going to change that.' And I promised her, 'From this moment on, you have me,'” Lorine said.
Any place, any age
So, Lorine began inviting Brittany to her home and out for lunch, and the two quickly bonded.
“You think I bonded with her? My husband's bonded with her 10 times more-so. Yeah, she is a daddy's girl,” Lorine said, laughing, as Brittany and Michael Sr. smiled.
The couple affectionately refer to Brittany and Michael Jr. as the “bookends” to their family, with Dyllan, 14, Delainy, 10, and Julia, 9, rounding out the bunch.
Lorine said too many people only consider newborns for adoption, but there are also 19- and 20-year-olds who need a loving home, as well as children every age in between.
“I think it's really important for people to look for children anywhere, and it could be any age. So I've committed to finding matches,” Lorine said. “I say it's like a matchmaker, but for families, because there are so many people like my husband and me. I was desperately craving and wanting to add to our family and could not biologically do it. And I could not understand why or how, especially when as a successful woman, everything comes easy.”
But in this realm of her life, Lorine realized she had no control.
“For the first time, it was until I was (almost) 40 years old that I was told, well, guess what, things aren't so easy in this regard. But now I know that that was the way it was meant to be. It's a journey. Some people say it takes six to 10 times before some people will even consider adoption, and that's a statistic from the Dave Thomas Foundation. They will tell you, it takes repeat and repeat and repeat.”
“I was exactly like that,” Lorine said. “I heard about adoption, I didn't want to talk about it … I felt that it was me admitting that there was a fault that my husband and I couldn't conceive. I felt a shame to it.”
“But then, I was able to see that I was chosen. I see it that I was chosen,” she said. “And I tell women this all the time, and their husbands who are struggling, that you are a chosen one. You are a chosen one because there is this need. There is this great need. And it's like, how much can you love? How deep can you love? And you want to tell people, I'm the one who's going to give you hope because I'm going to guarantee you, from this moment on, there is a child for you somewhere.”
Outreach efforts
And so, Lorine volunteers her services as an attorney for people who want to adopt. She and Michael Sr. have organized clothing and toy drives for foster children to help out the families who take them in. Lorine has appeared regularly on cable TV talk shows with Hazleton-area journalist Jeannine Lesante Mazurkiwecz and on area newscasts to explain and promote foster care and adoption in Luzerne County.
Lorine and state Rep. Tarah Toohil recently hosted a Foster Care and Adoption Awareness event at the Hazleton One Community Center in Hazleton, at which representatives from Luzerne County Children and Youth Services, area foster care and adoption agencies and agencies and programs that help troubled youth had tables set up with literature and were available for face-to-face conferences.
Lorine and Toohil met when Toohil was running for office. Toohil was one of the people who encouraged Lorine to consider adoption. Now, she describes Toohil as her best friend. The two quickly bonded because Toohil, R-Butler Township, also has a very personal experience with foster care and adoption.
“My parents were foster parents to over 42 children. My sister is adopted. So it's a big thing in my life,” Toohil said, noting that she sits on the House Children and Youth Committee.
“A lot of these advocates are all working on the same type of issue, working to combat the same systemic problem,” Toohil said at the event, which she said was designed as a networking and educational opportunity that she hopes can be duplicated statewide, given the thousands of children in Pennsylvania foster care programs. “We're only one county out of 67 counties. But if we can improve, as a pilot program, the way we do adoption in Luzerne County, we can be a model for the rest of the state.”
Statewide network
The Statewide Adoption Network, commonly called SWAN, is a valuable resource that many people don't know about, Toohil said.
“Anyone can go on the SWAN website and these children are listed with their name, their age, where about they live. Some of them are 17, 18 years old, they're waiting for a forever home, or they're really young children that are on there. There are sibling groups that are on there. But these aren't damaged goods. Children and Youth are overloaded with children who need homes, but there aren't enough people in the community who are willing to take them in,” she said.
Toohil said the children for whom it is most difficult to find foster and adoptive parents are older children, children of mixed race, children born with addictions, and sibling groups. She noted that there are permanent subsidies available to adoptive parents of children in such categories.
And many newborns, unfortunately, are being born with heroin addictions, she said.
“But it's not like the crack epidemic of the '90s” in which crack-addicted babies needed extremely intensive therapy, Toohil said. A heroin addiction is the easiest addiction to treat and overcome in infants early on, partly because of the types of therapies required.
Toohil said she also is concerned foster children experience as little disruption in their lives as possible. She is working on a bill that would require tracking children in foster care and requiring that they are not placed into a different school except in extreme circumstances. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 12 in Courtroom 5 of the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.
Bilingualism needed
Ceil Bartolai, social service coordinator for Luzerne County Children and Youth, said the primary work of the agency is to protect children by removing them from unsafe situations when necessary, and placing them with responsible adults in a safe environment, with the ultimate goal of reunification of the child and parent(s).
If reunification isn't possible, the goal then becomes adoption. Many go into kinship placement, in which they are cared for by a relative, she said.
In Luzerne County, the greatest need is for foster parents who will take in teenage children and for bilingual foster parents, Bartolai said.
Lorine's husband, Michael Sr., said people who want to have a child but can't conceive shouldn't be afraid to look into foster care.
“People who are on the edge are always going to question something. There's always going to be questions. But once you cross that hurdle, you'll know this is what you want,” he said.
Lorine is committed to breaking a generational stereotype about foster children that she finds in most people she meets.
“It's like, 'Oh, they're foster kids. Doesn't that mean that they came from a bad experience, they're second-hand, they're some form of damaged goods? Isn't it difficult, isn't it hard, isn't it expensive? And all of those things I can respond to,” Lorine said, “because I've gone through the process, and I can say no, it isn't. But if people don't talk about the positiveness of children out of foster care, then how do you break that label?”

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