Adoption Dream Comes True for Refugee Youth

by | May 27, 2020 | Child Welfare, Refugees & Immigrants

Barbara and Jeremy Tantrum became a licensed foster home in 2009. Parents to a toddler and guardian to an Ethiopian teen, they wanted to foster a refugee or immigrant youth through LCS Northwest.

In January 2010, the Tantrums learned from us that six Congolese siblings needed foster homes. Another family could foster three children. The Tantrums agreed to foster the other three, all girls, ages 2, 7 and 12. Their family transformed overnight.

The sisters spoke no English and arrived with few possessions. LCS Northwest provided funds for clothing. Using Google Translate, the Tantrums learned key words and phrases in Swahili, such as “chakula” (food) and “lala salama” (sleep peacefully) to communicate. “We were in survival mode for the first six months,” he added.

Barbara, a trauma and adoption therapist, was finishing graduate studies then. She also found out she was pregnant with the couple’s second biological child. Barabara took a year off to help family members adjust, to feel safe and loved. Our unaccompanied refugee minor staff was there to help.

Since 1980, LCS Northwest has resettled refugee minors who arrive in the U.S. with no parents or guardians to care for them. Our Refugees Northwest program serves unaccompanied refugee youth in long-term foster homes in the Puget Sound region. We support these children and their caregivers to ensure youth are educated, connected, and building new lives.

Barbara described Tigest Coleman, their first LCS Northwest social worker, as “the bomb.” Tigest helped enroll the girls in school. She connected the family with a monthly support group for refugee youth and their foster parents. She linked them with cultural resources and helped navigate challenging family dynamics. “Tigest was our ally,” Barbara said.

Seven-year-old Nathalie was the shy one. She had health issues and was healing from personal trauma. It took time for her to feel safe and find her own voice.

“The first time Nathalie talked back to me, I felt it was a major victory,” said Barbara. “It was like she finally felt safe enough with us.”

As Nathalie’s self-confidence grew, she began to explore and define herself. She considered Barbara and Jeremy as mom and dad. She worked hard in school and got involved in her community. When she was 14 or 15, she asked to be adopted.

“I hated having to call myself a foster kid because in my eyes they were my parents,” explained Nathalie.

As an Unaccompanied Refugee Minor, Nathalie wasn’t eligible to be adopted. But Nathalie’s dream to be adopted persisted. When she turned 18 in January 2020, Natalie had a voice in this decision. In February, Barbara and Jeremy legally adopted Nathalie as their daughter. What does this mean to Nathalie?

“Permanence,” she said. “I feel complete.” Nathalie has her sights on new goals: earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Seattle Pacific University, and working with her father at Google. Her proud parents have no doubts her dreams will come true.