For Sornchai family, adoption is the ‘holiest disruption’
CARDINGTON — Lailah and Alessandra Sornchai are happy, sweet, busy little girls.
The sisters were excited to receive a visitor to their home in the parsonage next to St. John Lutheran Church (Windfall) near Cardington, where their dad, Adam, is the pastor.
That’s a word that has a whole new meaning now for Adam and his wife, Jessica, as well as for their two little girls, who they adopted earlier this year after serving as their foster parents for the previous two years.
Adam, age 37, has been the pastor at St. John Lutheran since 2011. He and Jessica, age 34, were married in 2012. The couple met when Adam was attending seminary in Jessica’s home state of Pennsylvania.
The adoptions of Lailah, age 5, and Alessandra, age 4, were finalized on May 30 of this year, giving the girls a forever home. And they seem just fine with that, content to munch on snacks as they listened to their mom and dad share their family’s adoption story with the visitor.
That day in Marion County Family Court when Judge Robert D. Fragale pronounced the adoption final was truly emotional, Adam said.
“We were living into being a family, growing together for so long,” he said. “When we got to the court, I know for me, it was still very moving for the judge to say, ‘You are their father and you are their mother.'”
“It was probably one of the best days of our life,” Jessica added. “It was confirmation that it was forever now.”
The adoption journey
“We always, even when we were dating, wanted to adopt,” said Jessica, who is a social worker for OhioHealth Hospice in Marion. “We didn’t know whether we could have biological children or not. Either way, we wanted to (adopt). We still don’t know if we can have biological children, but we went through with the process of becoming licensed foster and adoptive parents through Marion County (Children Services).”
The Sornchais became licensed in 2017 and right after receiving their certification, Lailah and Alessandra came into their lives.
“We were licensed and a couple of days later we got the call,” Jessica said.
“(Lailah and Alessandra) were our first foster placement,” Adam noted.
The quick turnaround from foster parents in training to foster parents with two children in the house was a bit dizzying for Adam and Jessica, to say the least.
“We went from having two dogs, to having two dogs and two kids that came to us running and in diapers,” she said.
“They didn’t have any structure or anything like that, and we didn’t have any experience being parents,” Adam said, chuckling. “It was zero to 200, being thrown into the deep end of the pool, whatever cliche you want, it was true.”
Despite the lack of practical parenting experience, Adam and Jessica said they feel blessed to be daddy and mommy to Lailah and Alessandra.
“I’ve often articulated it as the holiest disruption in my life. Yeah,” Adam said with a broad smile — a daddy’s smile — and mist in his eyes.
Network of support
Adam and Jessica said the support provided by family, friends, and their congregation at St. John Lutheran was indispensable throughout the process.
“It was vital. We couldn’t do this alone,” Adam said. “We had a parishioner who said, ‘You foster, we foster.’ They really took the girls in as part of the family.”
Jessica said the generosity extended to their family was genuinely moving.
“Whenever we first got the girls, we didn’t have anything for children,” she said. “No clothes. No toys. People gave us hand-me-down and brand new clothes, toys; dropped off diapers, especially. That was huge for us starting out. It was a pretty big investment for us in the beginning, so for people to help us like that was just amazing.”
On the day of the final hearing in Marion County Family Court, the show of support was overwhelming.
“They actually had to move our group into the largest courtroom that they had because we had an amazing support system,” Jessica said. “We had family that came in and then our church family came, and different friends in the area. There was standing room only in that room. It was absolutely amazing.”
Finding the right balance
Being foster parents and now adoptive parents requires a period of adjustment, for both the adults and children, Adam said.
“There’s a lot of factors there,” he said. “You’re trying to adjust to being parents, and getting to know them, and setting that sense of structure and stability that they need. And there’s other dynamics; you’re working within the foster case system, so you have paperwork and monthly visits from caseworkers. You’re trying to balance parenting with all those other necessary duties.”
Jessica noted that caring for foster children, many of whom have experienced significant trauma, is “like parenting plus.”
“You’re dealing with kids that have lost their primary bond,” she said. “You’re dealing with a lot of different dynamics.”
Adam outlined a few of the issues and emotions they experienced.
“You’re dealing with grief. You’re dealing with fallout from neglect and all these other things,” he said.
Despite facing difficulties along the way, home life is good.
“It’s a blessing. It’s hard to think of a time when they weren’t here,” Adam said.
“This is our normal now,” Jessica said. “We love each other. They’re our kids. They’re ours.”
By the way, from the more the merrier department, Adam and Jessica are also foster parents to a pair of little boys, ages 3 and 2. And they’re in the process of adopting them, too.
Becoming foster parents
Elizabeth Moore, a placement caseworker for Marion County Children Services, said 35 families are currently licensed by the agency as foster families in the county. Eight of those families are new to the system in 2019.
According to the agency’s 2018 annual report, 134 children lived in foster care settings last year in Marion County. Statewide, the number of children in foster care totaled 27,196 last year, according to statistics from The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center.
Marion County Children Services has reported five completed adoptions so far in 2019. The agency reported 10 completed adoptions in 2018.
According to the Kids Count Data Center, in 2017, 24 percent of children nationwide who exited the foster care system did so via adoption; a total of 58,185 kids. In Ohio, 15 percent of children who left foster care in 2017 did so through adoption. The total number of adoptions from foster care was 1,509.
Moore said when children services is called upon to provide assistance, keeping families together is the agency’s primary focus.
“In the state of Ohio, the number one goal is reunification. Kids need to be with their families,” she said. “But, safety is the priority. Our first step when a child is not able to stay home safely, is that we will look for someone in their family to take care of them. When we’ve exhausted all of our options there, if we have options, then we turn to our foster parents.”
Moore noted that children services does not determine whether or not a child will be placed for adoption. The agency can file a petition for permanent custody, but the final decision lies with the courts.
Marion County Children Services offers training for foster parents twice a year, Moore said. The sessions are available in May and November. A variety of topics are covered during the training.
“We teach about what it’s like to parent a traumatized child,” Moore said. “We also really encourage our foster parents to work with birth families. What is a birth family and what do they look like? They can all look different. And we talk about child abuse and neglect and what they look like.”
For information about becoming a foster family, contact placement caseworkers Elizabeth Moore or Karena Pryor at 740-389-2317.
Information about children services can be found on the agency’s website, marionkids.com.