- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Adopted as a newborn, Stephanie Hayhurst-Hall wants to give back.

Hayhurst-Hall and husband, Jason, who have a 6-year-old son, decided to become foster parents with the Wood County Chapter of the West Virginia Children’s Home Society last summer, and hope to adopt a child or several children through the same system.

According to the West Virginia Children’s Home Society, in 2013-2014, the society helped find 62 children a lifetime family. Foster parents provided 44,862 days of care to 294 children statewide. Last year 36 siblings were adopted by 14 families.

Local Children’s Home Society officials said they daily get calls looking for homes for children and they have to often place them outside their home community because there are no local placements available.

“We currently have 25 families but most of them are at capacity,” said Carna Metheney-White, Child and Family Services supervisor with the Wood County offices of CHS.

“On any given day in West Virginia there are over 4,000 youth in foster care and approximately 1,000 of them are available for adoption. Our kids range in age from newborns to teenagers transitioning into adulthood that need a stable, supportive environment. We often see siblings that end up being separated because we don’t have homes that are able to take them together. I would love to see more families willing to take in siblings and older youth,” Carna Metheney-White said.

Hayhurst-Hall was in the foster system for only a few months before she was adopted by the loving couple who became “her real mom and dad.”

Growing up in Ritchie County, Hayhurst-Hall went on to get an education degree from Marshall University and a master’s degree from West Virginia University in social work. She moved to North Carolina for a while to teach school then returned to the area. She is now an insurance agent with her offices in Clarksburg.

Hayhurst-Hall advocates telling adopted children they are adopted.

“My mother and father, they are my world. They told me I was adopted the first time I asked; there were never any secrets; they were very honest about it. I feel very passionately that it’s very important to children who are adopted that they know, and not feel like they grew up not knowing and finding out later,” she said. “Any adoptive parent will tell you, even though they want their child to know, it is very hard, emotionally talking about it.”

Hayhurst-Hall said she is often asked if she’s glad she was adopted.

“The answer is yes. I thank God every day for giving me a life I would never have had otherwise. I am so relieved that I was given the special gift of being adopted - especially now that I am older and can understand what could have happened to me if I would have stayed in the system,” she said.

Hayhurst-Hall said she had no information about her biological parents, but after an illness a physician told her she needed to try to get medical information about them. She went to CHS in Charleston, filled out the paperwork and was able to get some information.

She still doesn’t know who her birth father is.

“I’ve come to terms with that as an adult. I’ve come to terms there will be a lot of the mysteries that will always be there,” she said.

A few years after setting up her Clarksburg business, her birth mom found her and contacted her on Facebook. Hayhurst-Hall said she responded, but developed rules.

“I’m at a time in my life that I feel I’m well-adjusted, and I don’t really desire to have a relationship with her,” she said.

Hayhurst-Hall said after a miscarriage the couple decided to more seriously look into adoption.

“I’ve always wanted to adopt, that was always my plan. I truly believe that God brings you to something. I had wanted to adopt, my husband was open to it, and we just decided now was the time and we started the classes and the process at the Children’s Home Society,” she said. The couple became foster parents last summer and hope to eventually adopt one or more children.

Hayhurst-Hall said people have the misconception you can’t be a foster parent and work outside the home.

“We are both very involved with our businesses and our communities. Single parents can also be foster parents. You can decide as a family what children are a good fit for your home; you can work with the agency to decide on the placements,” she said.

Hayhurst-Hall is an advocate for change in the system.

“I think change is long overdue in West Virginia. We have a broken system. I believe the earlier you can adopt these children, the less issues that are going to arise. Our system needs to be corrected for the sake of our children and their future; abuse, neglect, we have to step in at an younger age and say enough is enough and let these children go on - and live a normal life and not be subject to the system,” she said.

Hayhurst-Hall said she and her husband have talked with legislators about changes they feel are needed in the system.

“It shouldn’t take 18 months to decide what is going to happen with a child. There is a small number of cases where the biological parents make the effort to change - but it seems to be a cycle,” she said.

“The children learn what they are taught. We need more people to come forward and be foster parents. We need to make changes, stand up for children. We need to make sure the parents prove themselves. It’s not always the best option to have the child returned. We need to be an advocate for our children and that’s being an advocate for society,” she said.

For more information on becoming a foster parent or adopting through the West Virginia Children’s Home Society contact the local offices headquartered at 1717 St. Marys Ave., Parkersburg, or call 304-485-0650.

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Information from: News and Sentinel (Parkersburg, W.Va.), http://www.newsandsentinel.com

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