- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) - As she struggled to put in her silver turtle earrings - her first new pair since getting her ears pierced a couple months ago - Abigail Morrow had a look of fierce determination on her face.

“Do you want me to help?” asked Terrie Morrow, her adoptive mother.

“No, I’m gonna get it,” replied Abbey, 10, as she focused on her task, biting her lip.

After a few more moments of finagling, the post slid into place. A look of satisfaction spread across Abbey’s face. Morrow congratulated her on this small, yet new, milestone in her life.

It was a chance for Abbey to take charge of her situation - something she’s not very acquainted with.

Abbey’s short life has been punctuated by a series of struggles, many out of her control.

Since she was 2, Abbey had been in the foster care system, passed from home to home, her anger and resentment growing with each temporary stop.

But those handoffs stopped last fall, when she was officially adopted by Terrie and Calvin Morrow. The little girl’s eight-year search for a forever home ended in Holland, and her new parents say she’s beginning her journey of finding love again.

“We call her story the ‘Abbey Road,’” Terrie Morrow told The Grand Rapids Press (https://bit.ly/1nwgaBl ). “Evidence and proof that God searches for us and fights for us.”

Abbey’s earlier behavior issues marked her as one of Tennessee’s worst cases in their foster care system, Terrie Morrow said.

The child’s anger stemmed from a sadness and general distrust that had only grown over the years. She had been in at least six different foster homes and had spent a year in two different residential treatment centers - when she was just 6 and 8 years old.

“(She was) a little girl who had more than 22 people in the role of mom and dad in her life,” Terrie Morrow said. “So she trusted no one.”

At one of the first homes Abbey was placed in, she and her brother were both adopted. But the couple later decided the arrangement with Abbey wasn’t working out. Without getting the opportunity to say goodbye to the family she had stayed with for three years, Abbey was whisked back into the system.

A few stops later, and Abbey was on her way to becoming a foster care statistic. The older a child gets, the harder it is for them to be adopted.

According to data from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 1,283 children ages 5 and younger were adopted in fiscal year 2014.

It’s a big difference compared to the 578 children ages 6 to 10 who were adopted in 2014. The numbers only continue to dip the older the children become.

Bob Wheaton, communications manager for DHHS, said there is a greater need for adoptive homes for older children because most families look for younger children, or mistakenly believe older children are closer to independence and therefore don’t need to be adopted.

“It’s important for youths of all ages to have the stability of a permanent family and a sense of belonging to a family,” Wheaton said in an email.

The Morrows entered Abbey’s life in 2013, when she was placed as a foster child with their newlywed daughter and son-in-law in Tennessee.

Because the young couple was not emotionally equipped to deal with such intense behavioral issues, Abbey was moved from their home as well.

Before she was removed, the Morrows would drive down to visit the family and Terrie Morrow, who works with emotionally impaired children in Caledonia schools, developed a close bond with Abbey through craft projects.

After Abbey was taken away, Terrie Morrow said she was unable to get the girl out of her mind, praying every day that the child found a home.

From the moment Abbey left her daughter’s home, Terrie Morrow wrote in her Bible daily to keep a spiritual connection with the girl.

“I wanted her to be able to see that I thought about her every day,” Terrie Morrow said.

The couple wanted Abbey in their home in Holland to give her a stable place until she was adopted. They contacted any authority who might help in their endeavor and tried to keep track of Abbey as she worked her way through Tennessee’s foster care system.

But it was difficult fighting through layers of paperwork and red tape. They would often lose her.

“We were trying to get it expedited because she was a child left with nobody,” Terrie Morrow said. “Nobody to visit her, nobody to pursue her.”

They eventually found her in a residential treatment center for boys in Georgia. She was the only girl living there.

The Morrows began making efforts to be her foster parents, but ran into another wall because they were not licensed for the job.

It was another year and a half before Abbey could come to their home in August 2014.

Before Abbey was pulled into their lives, Terrie, 58, and Calvin, 66, were enjoying their empty-nest years. Calvin Morrow had retired and their two children were in their thirties.

“Life was full of peace and quiet,” Terrie Morrow said. “That was suddenly turned upside down by a little girl.”

The first year Abbey was in their home, where their son Nick Morrow also resides, it was tumultuous. Her tantrums were extreme.

“Her overwhelming sadness in her little heart intersected our joy,” Terrie Morrow said. “When those two things intersected - that’s when the battle began.”

The Morrows felt inevitable frustrations at having to give up their freedom. All of their energy and attention was suddenly shifted to a furious child who packed a deluge of traumatic experiences in her memory.

Terrie Morrow described that first year as “lonely.” She found little support in the community.

“I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know how hard it would be,” Terrie Morrow said.

But somewhere along the way, the couple who was not considering becoming parents again, began the adoption process with Abbey.

They couldn’t show Abbey love outright. She first needed to feel safe and experience compassion, Terrie Morrow said.

It’s been a process for the family.

Even last month, as Terrie Morrow pulled Abbey in a wagon down a sidewalk by their home, the girl’s eyes grew wide with fear as a man with his hood up approached and passed them.

“I get scared that someone is going to take me when I fall asleep,” Abbey quietly told Terrie Morrow, who immediately crouched down to offer her comfort that she is not going anywhere.

With time, Terrie Morrow said she has seen Abbey settle down more and work on coming to terms with what has happened in her life.

“Abigail loves projects and keeping busy,” Terrie Morrow said. “If she slows down, it makes her think.”

Abbey, who is enrolled in Zeeland Christian School, has a social coach who is with her at all times. This person helps Abbey cope with minor frustrations so that they don’t snowball into full-blown tantrums.

On Oct. 29, Abbey was officially adopted into the family. Her entire school class came to the adoption hearing. It was standing room only.

The judge told the Morrows he had never seen so many people at an adoption hearing.

For the family, it represented how much has changed for Abbey in just the past year.

The couple credits their faith for keeping them strong.

Terrie Morrow said that when looking at the Bible she wrote in every day when Abbey was first removed from her daughter’s home, she sees uncanny parallels with what the family has prayed for and what they have received.

Abbey, whom Terrie Morrow said did not like religion when she first came to their home, has also begun to find comfort in Christianity.

On the first page of her own Bible, Abbey wrote, “Thank God for Terrie + Cal. I’m been wateing (sic) for a home.”

Though Christmas 2014 was rough because Abbey was still filled with anger, this recent holiday was pleasant, Terrie Morrow said.

The parents focused on helping Abbey create her own traditions at home, such as enjoying Christmas movies with a mug of hot chocolate every night.

They even visited Tennessee over the break, and much to their surprise, Abbey didn’t have a single meltdown.

Terrie Morrow said despite the initial feelings of frustration at giving up their retirement years, she and Calvin are feeling nothing but blessed to have Abbey.

“We have traded that life of what we thought would be fulfilling to a real life,” Terrie Morrow said. “It is very fulfilling to watch life through a child. We see both the joy and the sadness.”

___

Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, https://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids

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