Eight-year-old Syanna* got to choose a new pink plaid and black taffeta dress for Nov. 8, the day she was invited to the B.C. Parliament Buildings to meet other adoptive families at a gathering hosted by Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy.
In these historic Parliament Buildings, all dark wood and red carpets, Syanna had no trouble making herself at home on the couch in the minister’s office. She watched as other much younger children played in the specially designated children’s play corner. She listened to the adults chatting while deputy minister Allison Bond did her best to keep the young children entertained — doing dabbing moves alongside a little boy named Dante, and getting down on the floor racing trucks with the smallest kids.
Syanna’s happiness was palpable. And why wouldn’t it be? She’s become a pro at negotiating change and she knows it. “I’ve had a longer journey than you. Trust me!” Syanna said to her adoptive parents when comparing their path to hers. During her young life, she’s lived in eight foster homes and has attended four schools.
Her journey on this adoption path began four months ago as she prepared to meet Kevin and Helen Hill. If all worked out, it would be the last time she’d have to adapt to living in a stranger’s home again.
The Hills, who grew up in and around Victoria, have been married for over 15 years and have been trying to have a child for a very long time. It took a while for them to come around to the idea of adoption. When they did, they attended an information session in Esquimalt put on by the ministry.
They took the 12-week adoption education course through the Adoptive Families Association of BC (AFABC). They chose to do the face-to-face version (it’s also available online), which provided the benefit of meeting other adoptive families, some of whom they caught up with at the Minister’s gathering in November.
Their home study began when they met their adoption/permanency-planning social worker Valerie Collins. “I just loved their practical, common-sense approach. As a day-care worker, Helen has huge amounts of experience with children. They have great support systems. And they were just ready and willing to love a child for whatever they brought, not needing their own priorities to be satisfied.”
When Syanna first arrived, they set off on a trip to a Nanaimo campground. It was the first time Helen and Kevin had been tent camping in a long time. And it seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce Syanna to a Canadian camping classic: s’mores.
Syanna’s memory from that camping trip boiled down to just one saying: “Who’s holding the leash?” She giggled, thinking back to fighting over who got to hold the leash of the family’s dog — Abby, a border collie/golden retriever.
“If you had told us when we started this process four months ago that we’d become parents to a beautiful, smart, little girl, we’d have had trouble believing that,” said Kevin Hill. “For a long time we’ve dreamed of being parents, carrying that in our hearts.”
Four months in, they’re all on the home stretch. The adoption will be signed and sealed around the six-month mark.
To help with their new roles, they’re participating in a program by AFABC called Parent Adoption Support Services, or PASS. PASS follows a parent-coaching model that identifies the parent-child relationships as the central dimension in a family's life and the parents as the therapeutic agents for change in their child's life. It’s currently available in the Coast/Fraser region, Victoria, the Kootenays and online using Skype. It’s also just one of many programs that AFABC offers related to post-adoption support that’s funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
With only two months left until their adoption becomes complete, the newly created family is doing the “one-day-at-a-time-waltz” of negotiating intimacy. And that’s a dance that all families are constantly negotiating, adoptive or not.
In the end, a child who needed a permanent home has now found one. As her new parent, Helen Hill says, “We can’t imagine our lives without her.”
* Because the adoption is in process, Syanna cannot be shown in a photograph.