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Toddler reunited with biological family almost two years after death of mother

When Jason came to One Hope United in October 2009, very little was known about his birth mother.

At the age of 2, Jason was removed from the care of non-relatives after he was repeatedly left alone without supervision. He was found,  wandering outside and was almost struck by a vehicle in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he was living.

Jason was immediately removed from the caregiver due to neglect and inadequate supervision.

Upon receiving Jason’s case, One Hope United team members discovered that he had no known biological family. His mother was killed by gunshot when Jason was only 3 months old. Since then, his life was unstable, having lived with two families, both non-relative, who were unable to care for him properly.

One Hope United staff were passionate about finding a permanent, loving home for the young boy. Utilizing a new family finding approach, which included a brainstorming session between Program Director Neika Berry, Supervisor Ebonie Hopkins and Program Specialist Valerie Threadgill, to determine what could be discovered about Jason’s biological family.

First, the identity and location of Jason’s father were questionable and following paternity testing, there were no leads.

Through diligent case mining efforts, staff discovered that Jason had two half-siblings that were removed from his mother’s care prior to his birth. Those children remained with paternal relatives, who were not related to Jason, and unfortunately, the caregivers were not interested in taking care of him.

It was through the implementation of family finding techniques that One Hope United was able to locate two possible maternal relatives of Jason. The maternal grandmother and uncle were possibly living in Lake Worth, Florida.

Family Case Manager Alrick Esberry took the initiative and attempted to contact both individuals at their last known addresses. Within a week, both relatives contacted Esberry and were eager to assist in providing a home for Jason. It was discovered that the maternal relatives had lost touch with Marie, Jason’s biological mother, due to her troubled past and were not aware of the baby that she had prior to her sudden death. Immediately, both relatives were invested and worked with One Hope United to give Jason a much deserved home.

In March 2010, Jason was placed with his maternal uncle and family in Palm Beach County with a goal of adoption. Due to the hard work and dedication of Esberry and the new Family Finding Initiative, launched by passionate One Hope United team members and in collaboration with Family Services of Metro Orlando, Jason was reunited with his biological family, found a loving home and forever family.

A tumultuous time line before finding a forever home

Jay, 16 going on 17, has spent the vast majority of his life in and out of foster care along with his five siblings. Jay, his two brothers and three sisters were initially removed from their mother on May 6, 1997, because of unsafe and unsanitary living conditions in the home. Upon entering the household, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) could not alleviate the safety and risk concerns due to verified findings of medical neglect and conditions hazardous to the health of the children.

On Aug. 15, 1997, against the recommendation of DCF, the court reunified Jay and two of his siblings with their mother.

A year later, Jay and his siblings once again, found themselves back in foster care after the children were exposed to domestic violence and physical abuse.

By April 19, 2000, the court terminated the parental rights of the mother and legal father.

And in 2001, the three sisters were adopted, leaving Jay and his brother behind in foster care. All hope was not lost for the brothers, as the two were placed with their maternal grandmother shortly after the girls’ adoption. But by 2005, the brothers were once again moved into a nonrelative placement after their grandmother fell very ill and could no longer care for them.

Hope seemed to be seriously waning for the brothers, when they were removed from the nonrelative placement due to physical abuse. The brothers were then thrown back into foster care.

In April 2007, Jay was placed in a One Hope United foster home with Nikki Ballou. The experienced foster mother noticed Jay was exhibiting problems with depression and anger and rightly so, after so many years of let downs. Then, the unlikely happened; Ms. Ballou and Jay began to bond.

With Ms. Ballou’s devoted presence in his life, Jay was able to overcome his struggles with depression and self esteem. Then, in Aug. 2008, a paternal cousin stepped forward and Jay was placed in that home with a goal to close permanent guardianship.

In Jan. 2009, despite his needs being met with the paternal cousin, Jay requested to be placed back in licensed foster care home of Ms. Ballou. Ms. Ballou was happy to have Jay back. He returned to her care on Jan. 16, 2009, with a goal to age out of foster care in her home, because Jay did not want to be adopted.

About six months ago, Jay finally started considering the idea of adoption after considering his future with no forever family, as he had lost most of his family members during his tumultuous youth in and out of foster care. Stephen Ryan, adoption case manager for One Hope United, and Shanda Moorman, Family Services of Metro Orlando and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids adoption recruiter, were relentless on encouraging Jay to never give up on the idea of finding his forever family.

In early Feb. 2010, after much encouragement from Stephen and Shanda, Jay, finally opened up about his true feelings and desires to be adopted by the woman that has shown him unconditional love and devotion, his foster mother, Ms. Ballou. So it was that at a Parent’s Night Out Adoption Recruitment event in late Feb. 2010, Jay talked to a room full of future adoptive parents. Jay spoke about his life in foster care, about being ripped apart from his siblings and about his struggle to accept being adopted.

Jay told the crowd, he changed his mind about being adopted, because he wants “someone to pick him up when he falls.”  Jay, who just wanted “to know that at 18 I have a family,” was officially adopted by his foster mother, Ms. Ballou, on March 31, 2010.