The call came in at 8:27 p.m., with a number Yvonne Wenger didn’t recognize. It was a worker from the city social services agency, one who helped make decisions about adoptions from foster care.
The infant was just two days old. Did she and her husband want to take the placement?
It wasn’t a sure thing, but it was a chance to adopt.
The rest of that night unfolded in shock. A run to Target. Friends picking out pacifiers, throwing diapers into the cart.
“There’s a baby coming to my house tonight,” Yvonne blurted out to some elderly men sitting in front of the store, “and she might be my daughter.”
Back at home a little later, Yvonne checked the window every few minutes. She wondered: Was this my moment?
Yvonne Wenger and her husband, Artie Nordstrom, have been married for 11 years. For nine of those years, they've been trying to become parents.
Everywhere, there were reminders they were not living the life they longed for -- other people's baby showers, birth announcements on Facebook. The emptiness came close to tearing their marriage apart.
As Yvonne struggled through years of infertility, with painful tests that she couldn't pronounce the names of, she received a scary diagnosis. It made her feel like trying to conceive would be tempting fate.
Yvonne, a Baltimore Sun reporter, set out to become a foster parent, and she looked for an honest story that would open up this heartbreaking and complicated world. She couldn’t find one. So she set out to tell it.
Her story, “The Wait,” began with 73 pages of journal entries that documented her fertility struggles, her days as a new foster mother, and attempts to navigate the moral dilemmas.
Chapter one: A diagnosis, and a decision
Chapter two: ‘Will I be here forever?’
Chapter three: Was love holding on or letting go?
Yvonne and Artie became parents to borrowed children. They found themselves questioning whether it was right for the system to take the boys away from their mom and dad, even if the social workers worried the children were being neglected.
They lived six weeks to six weeks between court hearings and against all odds, created a family. They fell in love. They said goodbye.
And then one night, a social worker pulled up outside their house with a two-day-old baby girl wrapped in a thin white blanket. Was she their daughter?
“The Wait” comes at a time when there is a significant shortage of foster parents nationwide and the number of children awaiting adoption from foster care has reached a 9-year high: 123,437.
This is a story about the children in Baltimore who need adults to step up for them, put their hearts on the line for them, fight for them, love them, nurture them. It's a story about the ones who go back home, and the ones who stay.
If you want to help
The Baltimore Child Abuse Center accepts donations on behalf of foster children. The center at 2300 N. Charles St. collects new items, including backpacks, duffel bags, toiletries, diapers, wipes, pajamas, other clothing, school uniforms and non-expired car seats.
To adopt a child from foster care
To become a foster parent
Foster parents welcome into their homes children of all ages who have been taken away from their parents because of abuse or neglect. Most of the children will return home.
To begin accepting children, foster parents must go through a licensing process that can vary based on where they live. In Baltimore, approval requires training, fire and lead paint inspections, medical clearance, background checks and proof of financial stability. Both single people and married couples can foster.
The city Department of Social Services also lists this requirement: “The ability to accept a child into your home, and let him go.”
Agencies are constantly recruiting for foster and adoptive parents while nearly 443,000 children await for temporary and permanent homes. Thousands of them are in Maryland.
For more information, call the state Department of Human Services at 888-635-4372 or go to dhr.maryland.gov/foster-care/qualification.
Foster care Q&A
How many kids are in foster care? Nearly 443,000 children are in foster care across the country, including roughly 4,000 in Maryland. Nationally, their median age is about 8.
Why do kids go into foster care? Most of the 270,000 U.S. children who entered foster care in 2017 -- 62 percent -- needed care because they were being neglected by their parents. An additional 36 percent entered care because of a parent’s drug abuse. Twelve percent were physically abused, 5 percent were abandoned and 4 percent were sexually abused.
How long do kids stay in foster care? The median amount of time a child was in foster care in 2017 was nearly 13 months. Six percent of children were in care for five or more years.
Who are foster parents? Foster parents are trained to give temporary care in their homes to children facing a family crisis, and the foster parents can receive a stipend to provide for the child’s needs. Little data is publicly available on foster parents, but some national campaigns are finding ways to better support foster parents.
Where do kids go from foster care? In 2017, the case plan goal for 56 percent of the children was reunification with their parents. Adoption was the goal for 27 percent. Others were on track to live with a relative or guardian. Some were being emancipated.
How do children in foster care become available for adoption? Before a child in foster care can be adopted, their parents’ rights must be terminated by the court. Officials take this step when parents have not met the goals to safely care for the children, and when a child has been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months. An agency can waive that requirement if social workers don’t believe it’s in the child’s best interest.
More than 123,000 children are waiting to be adopted, including about 500 in Maryland. Their median age across the country is about 7 and their median time in care is 25 months. Many will never be adopted.
How much does it cost to adopt a child from foster care? It costs little or no money to adopt a child in foster care.
How many children are adopted from foster care each year? In 2017, 59,430 children were adopted from foster care, including 348 in Maryland. Compared to children adopted from other countries or the private domestic adoption of infants, children adopted from foster care make up the overwhelming majority of kids adopted each year nationwide.
Safe Haven Law
Reporter Yvonne Wenger’s daughter was put up for adoption as a newborn by her birth mother through the foster care system. The birth mother used Maryland’s Safe Haven law. This law allows parents to relinquish their newborns in safe places, such as hospitals and fire stations, to prevent babies from being abandoned in places where they could get injured or die. Under the law, parents are allowed to remain anonymous, and they are protected from prosecution for abandonment, neglect or child endangerment. In Maryland, the law allows protection from criminal prosecution for the parents within 10 days of the baby’s birth, as long as the newborn is unharmed. A child welfare agency takes custody of the infant and asks the court to terminate the parent’s rights so the child can be adopted. Texas was the first state to adopt such a law in 1999.