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After years in foster care, deaf teen is adopted

Kansas City Star, MO - Aug 14, 2004

By NOEMI HERRERA The Kansas City Star

Teri Sturgeon of Olathe cried as she stood before the judge at the Johnson County Courthouse earlier this week. Finally, her son was officially her own.

The tears of joy were sort of a baptism, signaling a new beginning for 15-year-old Tim, who had been a ward of the state for seven years.

Deaf, faced with emotional problems and already a teenager, Tim was labeled unadoptable by Kansas Children's Service League case workers.

He was removed from his Hutchinson, Kan., home in 1997 because of neglect by his parents, who were both hearing and intellectually limited, said Heidi Cooper of the Kansas Children's Service League.

Tim had been bounced from foster family to foster family or from shelter to shelter. He went through social worker turnovers, and a couple of times, he was admitted into the Larned State Hospital, a mental institution. Tim's case workers had little hope of finding an adoptive family for Tim.

So when the finalization of his adoption arrived Tuesday, family and friends of Teri and Bob Sturgeon gathered at the Olathe Deaf Club for cake and celebration.

"I felt like I just wanted it to be over and approved," Tim said in sign language. "I can begin forever now."

Tim, who had become deaf at age 2 because of meningitis, had been available for adoption since 1999, and had been in the foster care of the Sturgeons for the past two years.

A sense of permanency is a big deal for children, said Stacie Sarasio, adoption recruiter for Kansas Children's Service League.

"To know they will be somewhere forever can make a difference," she said.

Before meeting the Sturgeons, Tim had behavioral problems, unable to communicate and lashing out from frustration.

"He was aggressive at one time, and people were scared of that," said Jacki Scott, Tim's social worker. "But it was because he couldn't communicate with the hearing people around him."

Tim's struggle was real and the aggression was there, "but Teri and Bob could see beyond that," Scott said.

Bob said he and his wife were open for Tim's hard-line behaviors when they first took him in as their first foster child, but they never saw the anger or lashing out.

"He was labeled that way because he was never placed with the right people," Bob said.

Teri and Bob, married for 24 years, know sign language and had no problem connecting with Tim. The transition into their home was smooth.

"Communication is key," Bob said. "If you can't talk, you will find another way to get it out."

After all the adversity, and after finding the Sturgeons, Tim is now described as compassionate and loving.

At church, he is a volunteer in the nursery, the best one they have, said Sherrie Klover, a family friend.

Becky Peck, another family friend, said Tim has been instrumental in helping her toddler son Spencer overcome his speech limitations. Spencer suffers from chronic encephalopathy.

"He was mute due to a vaccine injury," Peck said. The injury caused his speech motors to be compromised.

"Signing helps him with his thoughts," she said. And that is how Tim, who himself struggled with communication, helps Spencer. He teaches him sign language.

Social worker Scott said Tim is happy and laidback now. "He's completely different with Teri and Bob."

With tears welling in her eyes, Teri said she knew Tim was her son the moment she saw him.

"I just knew he would be part of my life," she said.

The instant affection the Sturgeons felt for Tim was mutual.

"I wanted to latch on to them right away," Tim said.

Did you know?
In the state of Kansas, there are 732 kids awaiting adoption. Nearly 50 of the 732 are from Johnson County.

• 31 of the 47 are 11 or older

• 25 have no disability

• 21 have a mild disability (including learning, emotional and/or physical)

• 1 has a severe disability

• 4 have a mental health problem

• 42 are part of a sibling group

Information provided by the Kansas Children's Service League.

The majority of the children awaiting adoption are challenged with finding a family because they are older or part of a sibling group. Kansas Children's Service League makes every effort to keep siblings together.

© 2004 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.



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