"Without St. Vincent, I don’t know if I would be here today.”
Shamber Flore was removed from her birth family at the age of five, after enduring years of abuse and exposure to drugs, prostitution, and gangs. She was put into the Michigan foster care system and St. Vincent Catholic Charities found her a home. Shamber’s parents have adopted 16 children, almost all through St. Vincent. Because of St. Vincent’s valuable work recruiting families, Shamber has loving parents, loyal siblings, and the stability necessary to make her own way in life. Now Shamber mentors other children with stories like hers at St. Vincent.
My adoption agency saved me
by Shamber Flore
At the age of 5, gunshots and sirens were my lullaby. I was exposed to gangs, prostitution, drugs, and abuse before most kids learn their ABCs. My earliest memories are walking to the bus stop for school a half mile away by myself (even in the cold Michigan winters), or going with my mom to foreign places while I waited anxiously for her to come back from long meetings with strange men.
My mom was a prostitute, and when my dad happened to be around he only added to the abuse in my life. My two siblings and I were just the byproducts of their rocky relationship, and so we were burdens. We were dragged from apartment to apartment, never knowing what the next day would bring or what the next meal would be.
Until one day, a knock on the door changed my life. It was Michigan’s Child Protective Services.
These strangers took me from the only home we had ever known, though unhealthy and dysfunctional, and separated me from my brother and sister. During the next chapter of my life, I was bounced from family to family, and I almost never saw my brother and sister. Each time I came to a new home, I got my hopes up that this would be my forever family. But it always felt like once again, I was packing up my bags, moving on to the next strange place.
That changed when an adoption agency called St. Vincent Catholic Charities helped to piece together the brokenness of my life by finding a permanent home for me.
In 2005, St. Vincent placed me and my siblings with the Flore family. I quickly came to know them as mom and dad. They were stable and loving — toward each other, and just as importantly, toward me and my siblings. Not only did they give us good food, warm clothes, and cozy beds, they nurtured and cherished us, and gave us a quality education. Finally, I was able to begin real healing. I had a chance to lead a happy life. And in my new family, I’ve learned what love feels like.
Every child in foster care deserves to find a loving home like I did. But because of a desperate shortage of willing families, particularly for minority, older and disabled children, many won’t. In Michigan alone there are nearly 13,000 children in foster care. At this moment, over 340 of those kids are just waiting to be adopted, and over half of those are minority children like me. As time goes by, the prospect of finding a family willing to permanently adopt a foster child diminishes. Every year approximately 600 children in Michigan “age out” of foster care, which means that at the age of 18 they officially leave the foster system never having found a permanent family, let alone resources or skills to make it on their own. These children are much more likely to end up in poverty and much less likely to graduate from high school, let alone college.
Adoption agencies like St. Vincent make a big difference in alleviating this problem and finding more families to provide a home for these kids. Through St. Vincent’s work last year, 79 children were placed in foster care, 24 children had their adoptions finalized, and 17 additional children began the process of finalizing an adoption. Most of the children in St. Vincent’s care are minority children, and it excels in providing extra support for families with special needs children and finding homes for especially hard to place kids like teens or larger sibling groups like mine. And because of its faith-based mission, St. Vincent can reach different segments of the population, recruiting families like my mom and dad who would not have adopted with another agency.
But now a lawsuit brought by the ACLU is threatening St. Vincent’s and other faith-based adoption agencies. The ACLU is suing the state of Michigan for partnering with religious adoption agencies like St. Vincent simply because they are religious and follow a faith-based mission. If they succeed, St. Vincent will be forced to close the doors on its foster and adoption programs, and countless children still trapped in the foster system and in need of a loving home may never find it.
St. Vincent rescues children from the most vulnerable, most disadvantaged backgrounds like mine and gives them a chance to be part of a loving family and have a normal, healthy, happy childhood. We can’t let the ACLU take that away.
Shamber Flore, 20, was adopted through St. Vincent Catholic Charities in 2005. She lives near Lansing.
“We were given a really great opportunity to help them break the cycle."
Chad and Melissa Buck have adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent. St. Vincent gives them hands-on support in caring for their family, including going to doctors’ appointments and organizing support groups. Because St. Vincent knew the Buck family and all the details of their adoption history, the Bucks were able to adopt a younger sibling of three of their children after he entered the foster care system. Without St. Vincent, Melissa says, they “wouldn’t get that call.”
Catholic adoption agencies: A private-public adoption system that works
by Melissa Buck
How do you mother a child who is used to being thrown against a wall? How do you teach a boy that when his dad reaches for him, it’s not to hit him? How do you comfort a little girl who doesn’t know what a hug is?
These are the kinds of questions that confronted my husband and me when we began our adoption journey.
Like most couples, my husband and I yearned for children. Those hopes were dashed by the cruel reality of infertility. After years of trying and treatments, we turned to adoption. That path led us to our local adoption agency, St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing, Mich. While we are not Catholic, the state contracts with private agencies to care for and place in safe and loving homes the roughly 13,000 children in the state foster care system.
Our life plans took another surprise turn when staff at St. Vincent approached us about adopting three severely neglected siblings at once. Siblings are often separated when they enter foster care, but these siblings couldn’t withstand the separation, as they had learned to survive by clinging together, at times, quite literally. The oldest, just four at the time, was tasked with feeding and caring for his newborn sister. He had to perform this task quickly and efficiently because if she cried, he was beat.
There is no book, no pamphlet, no course in life that can prepare you for the reality that is going from marriage, to infertility, to saying yes to adopting three children at once who have suffered severe emotional and physical trauma. It is a journey you walk one extraordinarily unpredictable step at a time, and one we were only able to manage with the staff of St. Vincent walking every step of it by our side.
Staff answered our late night worried phone calls, assuaged the biological parents when they became hostile, and accompanied us on countless doctor visits to treat our children’s numerous medical issues. The staff at St. Vincent didn’t just save the lives of my children; they accompanied us in the joy of giving them new ones.
The work of St. Vincent is a daunting and seemingly unending task, with an ever-growing list of thousands of children displaced by neglect and abuse in the state rosters. Right now, there are 340 children in Michigan awaiting adoption, and St. Vincent alone placed 79 children in permanent, safe, and loving homes last year. St. Vincent also recruited more new families than seven of the eight other agencies in their service area. And more than 600 children in Michigan age out of foster care every year without ever having found a permanent family. These kids face higher odds of failing out of school and falling into the vicious cycle of poverty as adults.
But now St. Vincent faces an added challenge: a lawsuit from the ACLUagainst the Michigan Children’s Services Agency and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services ultimately threatens to shut down its adoption program. Lawyers at the activist organization are suing the state of Michigan for contracting with St. Vincent because of its religious nature and acting according to its beliefs when placing children. Even though St. Vincent happily works with non-Catholic couples like me and my husband, the ACLU apparently would rather see their adoption program shut down than allow the state to work with a religious charity.
The ACLU argues that St. Vincent prevented its clients from adopting. This makes no sense. The ACLU’s clients actually lived closer to four other foster or adoption agencies without these religious standards. These agencies could have even helped them adopt kids in St. Vincent’s care. Instead of going to these agencies to adopt children, they've spent years targeting St. Vincent, as the lawsuit shows, apparently trying to drive them out of the business.
This lawsuit doesn’t just threaten St. Vincent; it undermines the prospects of each and every child in Michigan’s foster care system. It’s a petty lawsuit that prioritizes scoring cheap political points at the expense of children.
When staff later approached us about adopting a new biological sibling to our children that was born after their adoption, at first we were going to say no. Raising multiple children with a range of special needs was hard, and I was recovering from the devastating loss of a surprise pregnancy. I had named the baby we lost, Nathaniel. When we expressed hesitation about another adoption, staff didn’t pressure us. They only asked us to pray for the right home for this new baby. His name, a St. Vincent worker told me, was Nathaniel.
We adopted again.
And our personal journey with St. Vincent’s may not be over yet, as our children now have another biological sibling who may need adoption. Our hearts are open. But the ability of St. Vincent to keep its doors open is now being threatened. That’s why we’re going to court with Becket’s help to fight against this lawsuit. We can’t let the ACLU take that hope for kids and families away.
Melissa Buck is a mother to five children, including a large sibling group, all of whom she adopted through St. Vincent Catholic Charities. Melissa, with the help of Becket, has moved to intervene in Dumont v. Lyon in the Eastern District Court of Michigan.