Johnathan was just a year old when he was removed from his biological parents because of the physical and sexual abuse he experienced at their hands.
After two years in foster care, Johnathan was adopted by a family through the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE). He lived for five years with that family until it was discovered he was again being abused by those he should have been able to trust the most. Again, Johnathan was removed from his home and placed in foster care.
The trauma Johnathan experienced—the original trauma of the abuse in two homes, plus his removal from both homes—caused him to lash out at others and to react to the abuse and ensuing grief in destructive ways, including considering suicide. But his caseworkers at Child and Family Services knew that Johnathan was a special kid who could thrive with the right chances.
Lisa Lederer was the supervisor of the CFS Behavioral Health Department when she met Johnathan. She was counseling Johnathan’s oldest brother and knew Johnathan and his other two siblings. Lisa was very involved with CFS’ partnership with Peace Ranch, where Johnathan received equine assisted therapy (see Update, Fall 2014 online at cfsnwmi.org). Lisa and Johnathan developed a bond that continued to grow.
Foster Care and Adoption Specialists Sharron Montague and Brittany Fulks worked with Lisa and Johnathan’s therapist, Elizabeth Carrillo, in search of the perfect adoptive home for Johnathan. “Throughout the search,” Sharron explains, “Lisa would often say how much she loved this kid and wanted to find him the perfect home. It just made sense that she would adopt him.”
Adopt him she did—along with her husband Dan on September 1, 2016. “I didn’t want to see him bounce anymore,” Lisa says. “We asked our kids how they would feel about it and they said go for it.” Lisa and Dan became licensed to foster just for Johnathan. In a typical foster care adoption, the child must live in the home for six months before being adopted. But Lisa and Johnathan’s workers knew that he had been through enough and requested the case be expedited. The adoption was completed in just four months because of Lisa’s professional experience, the Lederers’ support system, and obvious love of Johnathan.
The adoption was finalized in a crowded Manistee courtroom. “It was packed,” recalls Brittany. “They had tons of support. I saw Johnathan counting everyone and asked him why. He had brought gifts—a rose, candy, and a card—to say thank you and he wanted to make sure he had enough for everyone,” recalls Brittany.
Now, Johnathan is learning to be a child for the first time. Like many children who have been badly abused or neglected, Johnathan missed many developmental stages that most kids take for granted. Johnathan didn’t know how to ride a bike, swim, and had never used a baseball mitt. The Lederers changed all that.
While his life has improved significantly since becoming a Lederer, Johnathan still faces some challenges. Although 12 years old—he will be 13 on December 24—he needs 24-hour supervision and functions more at a 7-8 year old’s level. But with Lisa and Dan in his life, overcoming those challenges is much easier and he is progressing rapidly.
“Things are going so well,” remarks Lisa. “He’s at West Middle School now. It’s a fresh start for him and his past hasn’t followed him to his new school. This kid is so resilient. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be him, moving so often and losing his parents and siblings. He tries very hard to do the right thing, almost too hard. He worries about making mistakes and I have to remind him not to stress about it. We give him a lot of one on one attention.” He still struggles in some ways, but he’s making friends and getting good grades, especially in math. He LOVES to sing, and is enjoying choir at his new school.
“Everyone needs a place to call home,” says Dan Lederer.
The Gates Family
Foster and adoptive parents Roy and Jill Gates recently moved to Grand Rapids. About 7 years ago, they adopted an 18-month-old Stephen through Child & Family Services.
Over the years, Stephen's birth mother continued to have children, who were also removed by law enforcement and were eligible for adoption at birth. Roy and Jill went on to adopt four of these children, and now have a family of five, including Stephen, Kate, 7, two other daughters, ages 3 and 4, and 8-month-old Aiden. Their birth mother was unable to care for her children due to mental illness, among other issues. All fathers involved signed away their parental rights.
Unfortunately, the Gates' home was only suitable for three children. Recently, an individual contacted CFS and expressed their interest in providing an anonymous donation that would be used to help the Gates family be the best parents to their children. The specifics of the donation were resolved, and CFS acted in a pass-through capacity for the $5,000 donation.
The CFS adoption worker traveled to see the family, handing them the check and accompanying letter from the donor.
Nine-year-old Stephen read the letter aloud to his parents – a very tearful and emotional scene. Roy and Jill sent a wonderful letter back to the donor (who they will never know by name), expressing their deepest appreciation. In the letter, they indicated their intent to put the money toward the construction of their new home.
We are constantly in awe of the wonderful individuals in our community who consistently step forward to support and embrace our families.
19-year-old Tracey thought she was suffering from kidney stones. She went to the doctor, accompanied by her mother, and discovered it was not kidney stones but a pregnancy that was making her feel ill.
Tracey began pregnancy counseling at Child & Family Services and was able to talk through her options with a caring professional. She ultimately made the decision to place her child for adoption, giving her child the ultimate gift – the chance to be loved and cared for in an environment that she was not able to provide. Tracey's mother and entire family were extremely involved in the counseling and remain supportive of her decision.
Tracy's baby was born and the next day was transferred to the adoptive family that had been carefully chosen. Tracey wants to remain in her child's life and has planned contact for the future, which the adoptive parents have agreed to.