Robert Powell is a smiling, energetic three-and-a-half year old boy. With his toothy grin and almost constant motion, he seems just like every three-and-a-half year old boy, but Robert is luckier than most.
After a journey that's nearly as long as his life, he's finally home: his adoption by his foster parents is complete.
At their home in Ashburn, Robert's parents remembered when the boy, then six days old, first arrived in their house. He had been one of 10 children, and the Powells had an hour between the time they got the phone call and when Robert and two siblings came through the door.
The Powells had fostered children before in addition to raising three daughters, the youngest of whom was 14 when Robert first arrived.
"You've got a lot of experience," said Jan Powell, explaining why she thought "empty-nesters" often made excellent foster parents. "When you've got older children, you know they're not perfect. Your own aren't perfect."
While Jan Powell had always wanted to foster children, her husband, a self-employed mortgage broker, took a little more convincing. Now, Jon Powell looks at Robert with the pride of a father.
"I used to always hope for a boy," he said. "He's my boy now."
BY LAW, a court should decide if a child can be returned to his parents between 15 and 22 months after being placed in foster care. In Robert's case, it took much longer before the Powells were able to legally adopt him, but the system seems to be improving, according to Karen Rendon, foster home recruiter with For Children's Sake.
For Children's Sake, a private, non-profit child-placing agency, focuses on therapeutic foster care — in other words, children who typically come from abusive or neglectful backgrounds and could have behavioral problems.
"We get a lot of tough kids," Rendon said. "A lot of time [foster parents] hear 'therapeutic' and they think, 'What am I getting into?'"
Foster parents receive financial support from the state for caring for a child in foster care. For a child Robert's age, the stipend is $294 a month. Because he was in therapeutic foster care, the Powells received an additional $30 a day. They also received a $10,000 tax credit for adopting.
By working with a private agency like For Children's Sake, as the Powells did, they also received emotional support from the agency's employees. Foster parents with a child in therapeutic care will see a case manager at least twice a month. Case managers visit families with a child in basic care once a quarter.
It's also a family affair: Rendon's daughter is the Powells' case worker.
FOR PEOPLE considering taking a foster child into the home, Jan Powell had one piece of advice: "Don't disqualify yourself."
Rendon agreed. "There is no criteria," she said. "It doesn't have to be a married couple, it doesn't have to be somebody who's already a parent."
For Children's Sake's oldest foster parent is a man in his 70s, and they have many single foster parents, Rendon said. In total, For Children's Sake has 67 families approved for foster care and 61 children in care at the moment. Because families are allowed to decide what age and gender they'd be willing to foster, not all families have a child all the time, Rendon said. The agency's goal is to increase the number of approved families in its network by 25 families by next November, which is National Adoption Month.
The goal, Rendon said, is to return foster children to their biological parents. When that's impossible, it takes dedicated, loving families like the Powells to ensure a positive future for foster children.
The Powells first learned about fostering by attending a seminar. At the time, Jon Powell was still unsure about his wife's desire to foster. Several years and one adopted, happy little boy later, Jon Powell, a sometimes marathon runner, encourages other parents to check out the possibilities.
"The only way you can train for a marathon, first of all you have to put the sneakers on," he said. "It's like this — the first time, you have to go to the meeting. Give yourself a chance and find out about it."