You Never Outgrow the Need for Family

Mar 21, 2018 10:00 AM ET

In honor of National Professional Social Worker Month, we wanted to share a very special story.

Jessica Phoenix is a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids adoption recruiter in Florida who works every day to find safe, loving families for children waiting in foster care. This past year she adopted Zay, a teen on her caseload who had all but given up hope for a family. His adoption was finalized just days before his 18th birthday. Here is their story:

I always knew I would adopt one day. One day when I was older. One day when I was married. One day when my husband and I owned a home. One day when we had “X” amount of money in our savings. I knew I would adopt one day when I had my life “together”- whatever that meant. It’s funny how life works because August 22, 2017 became THAT day despite my relationship, housing and financial status.

I entered the child welfare profession seven years ago, and have been an adoption recruiter for the past two years, which is by far my favorite job! In 2016, Zay was referred to our Wendy’s Wonderful Kid’s program for adoption recruitment. I wasn’t yet the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter, however as fate would have it, I excitedly transitioned to that role two months later.

Each time we were together he told me he didn’t want to be adopted. He had already been adopted once, and now, 10 years later, was in foster care. But one day as I was dropping him off, we talked about how a family was more than just somewhere to live. It was someone to call when your car breaks down. Someone to come home to when you’re on college break. Someone to help motivate you to finish school when you feel like giving up. He finally looked at me and said, “Yeah, I think adoption would be the best thing for my future. Can you get me adopted?”

My heart leapt with excitement that we had such a break through, but I immediately felt sad knowing that many families don’t want to adopt a 17-year-old male. None of the families I had been working with wanted a child that “old.” Most families feel that teenagers are “too far gone,” or “too set in their ways.” However, I have seen firsthand the effects of aging out of foster care without a permanent, stable family. In addition to the lack of love and support, these young adults often end up in jail, homeless, not finishing high school and continuing to repeat the history of their biological family. My heart broke thinking that this might be the path Zay would follow.

With only eight months before he turned 18, I had limited prospects for Zay and thoughts of me adopting him began to creep in. I pushed them away, because what do I know about raising a child who is only 11 years younger than me? What would people think? What would Zay think? At the same time, if I were to wait until “one day” to adopt Zay, he would be well over 18 and there is no telling how his life would turn out. This was a reality that didn’t sit well with me. With 108 days until Zay turned 18, I told my director that I wanted to adopt him. My agency, Family Support Services of North Florida (FSS), worked diligently to assist me in getting my training and home study completed as quickly as possible. FSS and my grant manager with the Foundation were extremely supportive, and with 12 days before his 18th birthday, we stood before the judge, surrounded by 40 of my closest friends, family and coworkers, and officially became a family.

To say our journey has been easy would be a lie. It’s been an adjustment for both us as we learn to live as a family. I am adjusting to being accountable for someone else and he is adjusting to being held accountable. But with the love and support of everyone around us, we are becoming a family. I have always believed that you never outgrow the need for family, and each day I am reminded first hand that it’s true.

To learn more about the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and our mission to finding a loving family for the more than 117,000 children waiting in foster care, visit