After Jessica Porter finished her foster care certification through the Spotsylvania County Department of Social Services, she thought, “They’re never going to call me.”
“There were stay-at-home moms in the class with me,” Porter said. “There’s no way they’re going to call me, a single woman who works full-time.”
But only about four months after she completed the licensing requirements, Porter got a call from Spotsylvania DSS.
“I had capped [the age of foster kids she would accept] at 8, and the first thing they said was, ‘We have a boy here and it’s two weeks before his 8th birthday,’ “ Porter said.
Then the social worker went on to tell her more things about Sam—he was autistic, nonverbal and not potty-trained.
“They were very sweet about it. They said they would call a few other families. But I knew in the back of my mind that was probably a lie. They hadn’t been able to place him with anyone,” Porter recalled. “So I just said yes.”
Though she worked as a preschool teacher for children with autism, she hadn’t intended to foster children with special needs, but, “it was one of those things where I couldn’t really think of a good reason to say ‘no,’ ” Porter said.
She drove to the department and a social worker brought her to the room where Sam was.
“Here was this 8-year-old boy who had long shaggy hair sitting in a preschool play sink,” Porter remembered. “I sat down on the floor next to him and he jumped on top of me and then I took him home.”
She didn’t know it then, but her home would become Sam’s forever home. She finalized her adoption of him four years ago—and she has provided long-term foster care to two other children with autism and one without.
“I had not planned on focusing on kids with special needs at all,” Porter, now 35, said. “Sam started that trend.”
A January 2018 study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that children with autism are 2.4 times more likely to enter foster care than neurotypical children. One of the study’s authors, David Mandell, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research, wrote that the researchers see three reasons for this.
“First, raising a child with autism is stressful for families, as the condition is unusually difficult to manage effectively,” Mandell wrote in a January 2018 article in Spectrum, an online source for news and opinion on autism research. “Some parents may simply not have the skills and resources to do so. This may result in neglect or abuse—and placement in foster care.”
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