My name is Tristan and I am 19 years old. When I was 14 I was placed into state custody for getting involved in things I shouldn’t have and after being in custody for 4 years, I was placed into a group foster home.
We’ve fostered 17 kids and adopted our two sons, ages 13 and 7. At this point, my husband and I only foster sex-trafficked teens and LGBTQ+ youth- two demographics of kids in care that are unfairly overrepresented. We just had our 15-year-old foster son reunify after several awesome months with him.
But now I’m a parent - to other people’s children. I LOVE the parenting part; caring for these children is my greatest joy. I’ve got a lot of experience with infants and kids and feel pretty comfortable there. But foster care isn’t regular parenting. It’s parenting on a roller coaster, with lots of other people involved. I’m still processing all that I’ve learned over the last year, but here are a few of my takeaways 18 months into this gig…
There are moments in our lives that define us, set the course of our future and if we’re lucky humble us in a way that keep us grounded in our beliefs. For me, one of these moments was walking through a Thai city dump with a Burmese refugee who has dedicated his life to supporting vulnerable children and families…
When people first hear about sex trafficking, most assume that children are abducted and then sold into the industry, when in fact traffickers are incredibly resourceful, convincing & manipulative when luring their potential victims. A victim’s heightened needs or perceived needs are not being met which causes the vulnerable to look elsewhere. By establishing a superficial relationship and using various techniques, the trafficker will gradually manipulate them into the commercial sex industry. They take time to familiarize themselves with the victim’s individual vulnerabilities such as shelter, food, attention, love, acceptance, friendship, money, etc., in order to convince the victim that those needs will be met by him/her.
In Romania, trafficking mostly stems from poverty, lack of opportunity, and unmet emotional and relational needs. It doesn’t matter if they are from a family or an orphanage, if a child has faced neglect, abuse or a toxic living environment, it’s extremely likely that their most basic human needs of safety, love and belonging have not been met. This makes them very easy to manipulate. An easy example is if the father has left the family, a trafficker will enter the picture and say, “I know your dad left you, but I would never do that to you. I will always be here. It’s you and me forever.”
Throughout my life, I’ve always had a lot of compassion for children, especially for those who have been victims of trauma. As I dug deeper, I kept wondering how could I help these kids. I asked myself, “How can I, as a fly fisherman, move the needle of justice?”
Both of us 23 years old, my head was spinning as Sarah told me how she’d come to Asia after being promised a decent paying job at a restaurant. Because it was difficult to find a job at home, and because (not unlike me) she was excited to travel and see the world, she accepted the job, received all her travel documents, and got on a plane. Once she arrived, she was received by another Ugandan woman who took her passport and told her that she owed $5,000 for everything they’d done for her, but there was no restaurant. The only job was prostitution.
We have two main projects in operation, the first being our daycare center project. We are currently operating two daycare centers in the Arusha area of Tanzania where we provide high quality, low cost daycare to at-risk families.
Family reunification is important to me because I believe that the protection of the family unit is fundamental to a child’s wellbeing. Every child deserves the right to grow up in a loving and safe home where family values are instilled and there is a great sense of belonging. The family unit also protects cultural values, which are often lost in long-term separation cases.
I find it to be a great honor to get to meet someone at what is quite possibly the lowest place they will experience – having their children removed – and say I am here with you, you are loved, and I believe that you can do this. When I meet a new biological parent, I always try to picture myself getting down low to meet them eye to eye in the place they are currently sitting emotionally. It is too hard to help carry the load unless you get down under it with them.
I always imagined that once our home was finally filled with small feet, giggles and spilled milk that I'd feel completely content. As a woman who has wanted to adopt for several years, and as a woman who has walked through the loss of four children, I couldn't imagine being anything other than borderline-obsessed with my kids and my role as a mother some day. Young mothers would post on social media about being sick of their three-year-old's tantrums or the piles of laundry swallowing their beds, and I would roll my eyes and think about how I would be the most grateful mother when the time came.
We encourage you to press for honesty, transparency, and a willingness to engage in the hard questions. Asking these and other important questions can be the start of a partnership toward an ethical adoption process, and one that seeks not only the child’s best interest but that protects both the vulnerable and adoptive family as well.