After 2,310 days in foster care and 24 caseworkers, Chase Bailey was adopted Jan. 10 by a mom who had insisted that the only way she would ever adopt a child was if Jesus descended from heaven and told her to do so.
Dawn Bailey and her husband, Brad, had two daughters out of the home and a third who was a pre-teenager, and they could see the empty nest in the distance. Then three friends over a weekend sent her a link to 15-year-old Chase’s story, told by KTHV’s Dawn Scott in one of her regular “A Place to Call Home” features about children waiting to be adopted.
After tears and prayer, they decided their home could be his place.
It has been a rewarding journey, but not an easy one. Chase had been in more than 30 foster homes and facilities and had his trust betrayed many times. That kind of background makes fitting into a family challenging.
“Everything that they’ve known all of their lives has been completely flipped upside down, and then you’re trying to love and nurture and care for a child that has never been loved,” she said.
In a short film produced by Project Zero, Chase said the Baileys earned his trust by proving they were permanent.
“It’s just knowing that fact that you’re not going anywhere that kind of reels you in and helps you understand that they’re not here to hurt you,” he said. “They’re here to help you.”
Project Zero is a private organization that works with the state Department of Human Services to find homes for children who have been permanently removed from their biological families because of abuse, neglect or unsafe conditions. It has helped connect about 417 waiting children with families since its founding in 2012 by Christie Erwin.
It has two remaining events this year – a rally at War Memorial Stadium this Saturday, Nov. 11, and then a Christmas party. Both events will bring together waiting children and prospective families who have completed the pre-adoption screening process. One such event earlier this year connected 34 children with their families. The ministry also sponsors traveling Heart Gallery exhibits featuring photos of waiting children.
With Nathan Willis Films, it also produces short films introducing the children that can be viewed at Project Zero’s website, www.theprojectzero.org. Some of those films premiered at a “Fostering Hope Through Film” festival Saturday in Little Rock.
Among those shown was a sweeping, cinematic film featuring Clayton, 15, enjoying a fishing trip. His mother was murdered when he was two and he never knew his father, but in the video he’s a cheerful, likable kid. He jokes about not eating vegetables and says he wants an adventurous mom and a dad who’s a businessman, which he’d like to be a part of.
“If my future parents were watching this video right now, I would ask for a chance to prove that I’m a good kid and you would enjoy having me,” he says.
Not every video, or child, is so hopeful. In another, Michael, 16, doesn’t smile or try to sell himself. When asked what he would like his adoptive family to be like, he shakes his head and flatly says, “That’s not going to happen. … I’m not choosing to be adopted by family that’s not family. Because I’ve been through too much and I’m not taking that risk again.”
Erwin said Willis, the filmmaker, questioned his own editing of that piece, but she wanted to keep it raw, honest and authentic. “You need to let them tell their stories,” she said.
Project Zero has increased its total number of adoptions each year since it was created, to a high of 125 last year. It’s helped about 90 children find homes in 2017.
But Erwin’s goal isn’t to beat last year’s number. It’s to find every waiting a child a home – to reach the zero that’s part of her organization’s name. For now, there are 375 children in Arkansas waiting for a home, like Chase once did.
“Is it easy to adopt a child who has been waiting in the system for eight years?” she said. “No, because they have no blueprint for family. But they’re worth it, and they’re worth fighting for.”
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.