'Why am I still here': Teen struggles while waiting for adoptive family

(IndyStar.com) - Scarlet's eyes scanned her Uno cards, but her mind lingered on what had happened earlier that day. Another girl — another foster kid — had been adopted. Another girl had found a forever family.

Despondent, Scarlet tossed a card onto the pile on the floor.

Once again, no one had come for her.

"I'm tired of watching other people leave the group home," 15-year-old told her adoption recruiter. "Why am I still here?"

Scarlet is one of about 150 children waiting to be adopted through the Indiana Adoption Program, which recruits families for children in the foster care system. But Scarlet has been waiting longer than anyone in the program.

She has been in and out of the foster care system since she was a toddler. But Scarlet's removal from her biological parents' care became permanent in 2008, when she was 6 years old. Since then, Scarlet has lived in 35 different placements. And officials estimate nearly 1,000 other children have been adopted through the program.

"I always say to myself, 'there's going to be a home out there eventually that is going to want me,'" Scarlet told IndyStar, "'and who is going to treat me with respect, who I can actually look up to and trust.'"

Trust hasn't been easy for the teen, who is living in a group home in Indianapolis.

Tia Powell, a family case manager for the Indiana Department of Child Services, said people in the past have given Scarlet false hope. The teen went into their homes believing it would be permanent, that she wouldn't have to move again. But it didn't last. And Scarlet suffered another disappointment.

"I want people to know in the general sense — and especially for Scarlet — that these are not puppies from a shelter," Powell said. "You can’t take them back once you get them. They’re human beings. They have feelings and heart and emotions. And you make a commitment to these kids, and you work with them, you work through all of the things that go on with them. And she’s a sweet kid and anybody would be lucky to have her."

Scarlet has been diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability, reactive attachment disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. IndyStar agreed to use the teen's first name only, because she is in the foster care system and has suffered trauma.

In the past, officials said, Scarlet destroyed property when she had trouble channeling her emotions. She has thrown her hairbrush into the wall, causing a hole, and she's heaved rocks, cracking a window.

The teen has found constructive outlets for her emotion in music, walking and talking to others, said Heidi Knoerzer, a developmental disability professional who works with Scarlet. She said the teen needs a structured home where expectations are clearly laid out and someone will love and accept her.

Knoerzer said Scarlet is kind, loving and supportive. When another girl fell and scraped her knees, Scarlet was right there to help her up, make sure she was OK and hand her a wet paper towel. She comforts other girls when they are struggling.

"She always wants to help someone else," Knoerzer said.

Scarlet said she loves animals, hugs, being around people and songs that make her happy.

Powell said the entire DCS office in Grant County is rooting for Scarlet to be adopted. They want to empty that file drawer stuffed with the teen's child welfare records. Powell called Scarlet "incredibly brave and courageous."

"Many adults don't think about or don't realize that kiddos in our system have faced great challenges and traumas and act like any one of us would when faced with those traumas," the family case manager said. "Considering all she's been through, she's a normal teenage girl. She deserves the best life and family. All of our kiddos do, but for Scarlet, she really does."

Scarlet's wish is to have a family — people she can go home to every day, who will be there for birthdays, holidays, when she graduates high school and when she graduates college.

The teen shared that desire with Knoerzer recently as they drove back from a court hearing. Scarlet said one day she hoped to leave court with a family.

"That would mean more to me," Scarlet said, "than any other present that someone could give me."

Gripping the steering wheel, Knoerzer said her heart bled for the teen.

"Nobody should have to ask for a family, you know?" Knoerzer told IndyStar. "Family is supposed to be free."

Then, "in true Scarlet fashion," Knoerzer said, the teen moved on to the next important topic.

"What," Scarlet asked, "are we having for lunch?"

Call IndyStar reporter Marisa Kwiatkowski at (317) 444-6135. Follow her on Twitter: @IndyMarisaK.

Learn more about adopting Scarlet

Email snap@childrensbureau.org or fill out the form at http://www.in.gov/dcs/2738.htm. Find general information about the Indiana Adoption Program at http://www.in.gov/dcs/2730.htm.

INDYSTAR.com


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