A fateful day before the judge

It was in December 18, 2017, when Mandi, her husband, Tyler, and Hunter appeared in court. Their nearly two-year struggle had finally culminated to this point. They pushed all the headaches, sleepless nights, and emotions they’d experienced to the back of their minds as they sat in the courtroom.

judge, gavel, courtroom
Daniel_B_photos via Pixabay

The pair had completed all the paperwork, jumped through all the legal hoops, and taken all the necessary steps to adopt the baby boy they already thought of as a son. Just as they signed the final documents to make their adoption official and permanent, the young boy exclaimed a single word that stunned the entire courtroom…

Mandi and Tyler are used to struggling

Neither of Hunter’s potential parents, Mandi and Tyler Palmer, have had particularly easy lives. In fact, a large part of the glue that holds the couple together is the way they’ve had to work to overcome their hardships. Tyler is a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Army photo, on duty, tour duty
Tyler Palmer via Facebook

Tyler was a member of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. Just 20 days after completing basic training, he was sent off to fight. During the two tours he went on to serve, Tyler ended up having some harrowing experiences that would haunt him long after returning home for good.

Health problems

Mandi has constantly struggled with her health. She’s spent many nights in the hospital, undergoing tests and surgery for the chronic illness that she has dealt with since birth. Mandi has Crohn’s disease — a debilitating, painful illness that affects the digestive tract.

IV, hospital trip, selfie in the hospital
Mandi Luann via Facebook

While there are some treatments that have proven effective, doctors have yet to find a cure for the severe ailment. Crohn’s disease complicates victim’s lives in The pair would come to refer to Hunter as just the “medicine” they needed.

Their bond formed quickly

Tyler and Mandi met shortly before Tyler went on his second tour of Afghanistan. While the distance and stress could easily be enough to break up a young couple, Mandi and Tyler persevered.

When Tyler returned, the two were closer than ever.

professional photo, young couple, posing together
Mandi Luann via Facebook

It was scarcely a month after the couple had reunited before Tyler popped the question. He was sure he had found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Fortunately, the feeling was mutual. How could Mandi say no?

They wanted a family

Even before the couple eloped, they knew they wanted to bring a child into their family. “We both knew we wanted our own family so greatly but didn’t know what God had planned for us,” Mandi said. As badly as the couple wanted a baby, they also understood it would be a struggle.

couple at a ball game, in the bleachers
Tyler Palmer via Facebook

Unfortunately, Mandi’s health problems greatly complicated things. Even so, the couple knew they had to try. Days turned to months, and months to years — but still no luck. The couple was happy together, but they couldn’t help feeling like something was missing…

Pregnancy wasn’t in the cards

Although it broke her heart, the couple had to face the facts — Mandi was unable to conceive. But the couple refused to let this major setback ruin their plans to have a baby. They decided they wanted to adopt.

couple together, in uniform, smiling
Mandi Luann via Facebook

For people who have never been involved in the process, it’s often assumed that adoption is simply a matter of filling out some forms, speaking to a shrink or two, and driving down to the local orphanage. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Of course, there’s good reason for making the adoption process so stringent — nothing is more important than making sure a child is raised by capable and loving parents.

Signing up to be foster parents

Mandi and Tyler were determined to adopt, so they took the next step and applied to be foster parents. Even after talking it over and running through the situation in their minds multiple times, there was no way the couple could have prepared themselves for the journey they were about to embark on.

future foster parents, want to adopt
Tyler Palmer via Facebook

The road ahead was difficult, full of stressful nights and heartbreak but, ultimately, it would prove to be the most rewarding thing the young couple had ever experienced. Mandi and Tyler could hardly contain their excitement as the adoption date drew near.

Meeting their son

After months of stressing over filling out the proper forms, receiving training, and consulting with the agency, the time had finally come. Tyler and Mandi were about to be face to face with their future son.

Hunter had barely turned one week old when Mandi and Tyler picked him up from the children’s services office.

baby on uniform, foster child, adopted child
Mandi Luann via Facebook

Caring for such a young child in the foster system is extremely rare — the average age of kids entering the system is 6 years old. Hunter was in desperate need of a healthy, loving home, and Tyler and Mandi knew they could provide it. But even they didn’t know the fight they were in for…

An instant bond

“We arrived at children’s services and there was Hunter, all bundled up in a receiving blanket, and he was being held by our caseworker,” said Mandi. “He was eight days old and absolutely perfect. We fell in love with him instantly.” Mandi and Tyler had spent what felt like ages preparing themselves for this moment.

holding baby, adopted, foster care
Tyler Palmer via Facebook

They already had all the food, toys, furniture waiting for Hunter at home. But, even so, they couldn’t have prepared themselves for the strong emotional bond and unconditional love they felt upon seeing him for the first time. Over the course of the next 17 months, the strength of this bond would be tested.

An intense fostering process

Most states encourage couples that want to adopt to become foster parents first. Some states even require all potential adoptive parents to become licensed and undergo foster training. There are numerous advantages to fostering before adoption. For one, parents can spend time with their future son and daughter, as they wait for the adoption process to be finalized. 

Judge Daniel Swords of Hampden Juvenile Court in Springfield holds Alexandra Rubio after adoption proceedings in his courtroom. The family had waited almost two years for the adoption to go through. Angel and Sandra Rubio laugh as Alexandra gives her dad a high-five in the courtroom. Its great to have a day like this; I wish we had more, says Swords.
Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

On the other hand, permanently adopting a foster child can be difficult. All kids in the foster care system have undergone some form of trauma, and foster parents must be equipped to deal with this. Also, the primary goal of foster parenting is usually to care for the child until they can be reunited with their biological parents. This means there is no guarantee foster parents will get the option to permanently adopt the child they’ve come to love.

A ‘roller coaster ride’

In an interview with A Plus, Mandi said that the worst part about the “crazy roller coaster ride of fostering” and their fight for adoption was the “not knowing.” The couple lived in constant fear that, with one phone call, their loving family could be torn apart.

baby, family with baby, adoption
Mandi Luann via Facebook

“We always promised to love every baby that comes into our home as if I had given birth to them myself,” Mandi said. “So you obviously get attached very easily. In the back of your head, you always have to remind yourself ‘this isn’t permanent yet, he could leave us.”

But even if they wanted to, there was no way the couple could keep themselves from becoming emotionally invested. As time went on, their love for Hunter only grew.

Hunter was growing up

As Mandi and Tyler did their best to deal with this stress of the emotionally taxing situation, Hunter was growing up and becoming more and more attached to the only parents he’d ever known. He took his first steps and even began forming his first words.

Hunter, growing up, dressed up
Tyler Palmer via Facebook

Though the world of adoption hearings, emotional phone calls, and endless stacks of paperwork was still far beyond a 1-year-old’s comprehension, Hunter was becoming increasingly aware of his situation — and what was at stake. On December 18, 2017, he would make his voice heard.

The moment they’d been waiting for

The 17-month-long emotional “roller coaster ride” was coming to an end. Mandi and Tyler were given the opportunity to permanently adopt the young boy they already called “son.” All they had left to do was appear before a judge and sign the papers.

courtroom, empty court, hearing
Spencer Weiner-Pool via Getty Images

Though they were overjoyed and excited beyond belief, the family couldn’t help but feel more than a little nervous, as they sat in the courtroom. But, as Mandi and Tyler signed the papers, they found it hard to hold back their tears of joy.

Just as the Judge announced that Hunter was officially a member of the Palmer family, Hunter let out a cry that brought tears to everyone in the courtroom.

A tearful display

“Dad!” Hunter cried out in the silent courtroom, clapping his hands as he turned to his father. Mandi says it’s difficult to describe the relief and joy the couple felt at that moment, exactly one week before Christmas.

“It was the most emotional moment of our lives. Tyler was crying from the moment we walked into the courtroom, until the moment we left.”

adoption hearing, moment of truth, clapping
Mandi Luann via Facebook

“It was finally over and a ton of bricks were lifted from our chest,” Mandi said. The couple was left reeling from the emotional cocktail of relief and boundless joy. Hunter was now officially part of their family, and nothing would be able to come between them.

Everyone delighted in the new family’s joy

There was scarcely a dry eye to be found in the courtroom at that moment. The quiet room quickly filled with applause and laughter. Even the judge was moved by the outburst and came from behind the bench to congratulate the family.

outside courtroom, adopted Hunter, Hunter Palmer
Tyler Palmer via Facebook

After more than a year of struggling to stay together, the family took a moment to celebrate and reflect on what they had learned. “We’ve learned that there’s a rainbow at the end of every storm and we’re so thankful we kept the fight,” Mandi said. “My husband said that there is no medication to help his PTSD quite like having his son take our last name.”

The future looks bright

It would be ignorant to assume that all the family’s struggles are over now but, with Hunter by their side, Tyler and Mandi know they’ll be able to face whatever obstacles lie ahead. “I can now look into Hunter’s eyes and know that he isn’t ever leaving us,” Mandi said.

Hunter with scarecrow, in front of door
Mandi Luann via Facebook

“He’s safe and will always be loved now, and that is the greatest gift.” Their experience has inspired Mandi and Tyler to help other kids in similar situations and families considering adoption. “[The children] are innocent and deserve all of us to help put their broken pieces back together,” Mandi said in a Facebook post, during Foster Care Awareness Month.

Their family has grown quite a bit

After adopting Hunter, Tyler and Mandi have expanded their family even more. They now have a total of three children in their home. It’s not easy caring for four children, but Mandi and Tyler knew they could provide them with the love and attention they deserve.

whole family, big family together, three kids
Mandi Luann via Facebook

Despite all the hard work, sleepless nights, and penny pinching, the parents find that caring for these young children in need is the most rewarding experience they could ever hope for. “It’s been the biggest blessing of our lives,” Mandi told The Blade. Mandi has taken every opportunity to share her story in the hopes that it will inspire others to take a similar path.

The struggle continues for many kids in the system

Though things worked out for Hunter and his siblings, it’s important to remember that there are many kids still caught in the system that are in desperate need of loving families. The vast majority of people working within these social programs are doing their best to find permanent homes for children — however, it’s a strained system.

foster kids, standing together, kids in need
Foster Care & Adoption via Facebook

There are currently thousands of children in the foster care system, many of which are awaiting permanent adoptive placement. Due to the high volume of children in need, some are bound to fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, these are often children that need special care.

Children in need

Adoption and foster agencies have a difficult time finding homes for children who are age eight or older and have spent the most time in the system. As we’ve mentioned earlier, all children who enter foster care have endured some form of trauma.

After the Rubio family formally adopted Alexandra, they pose her with a series of signs outside the courthouse. The first read: Ive been in foster care for 1015 days. The next sign she held said: But today, Sepember 21, 2015, I was adopted!
Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Tragically, kids with special emotional, medical, and/or developmental needs tend to spend a long time waiting for a match. There are children from all backgrounds in the system, ranging from newborns to young adults. Similarly, foster or adoptive resource parents come from all walks of life.

Eligibility

Many different people are eligible to become a foster or adoptive resource parent. Many private and public agencies have different requirements, but in most cases you can apply to be a foster parent if you’re over 18 years old with a stable home and finances.

Debbie McLaughlin, of Greenbush, Me., guides an infant in foster care into her backyard to play with her 3-year-old grandson on Friday, June 30, 2017. McLaughlin and her husband are fostering their grandson, who was born drug-affected to their daughter, along with an infant from another family. With more than 1,000 children born drug-affected in Maine each year, the foster care system in Maine is stretched thin to accommodate the growing crisis of children in need of healthy, safe, drug-free homes. In the past four years, McLaughlin estimates she and her husband have fostered around 15 children.
Tristan Spinski for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Of course, potential foster parents have to go through an extensive criminal background check and meet with experts to ensure they’re able to provide the right kind of care to a child in need. This includes being able to care for a child 24 hours a day, and not relying on the financial stipend to care for themselves.

Eligibility: Part 2

In most states and regions, potential parents of foster kids can be of any gender or sexual orientation, retired or working, married or single. As long as you are able to provide the hard work, love, and patience to care for a child in need, you can potentially become a foster or adoptive resource parent. 

Stephen McCall talks with his four foster children June 10, 2003 in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City. McCall, 35, has been a foster parent for five years, taking the four teenagers under his wing. More than 25,000 children are in foster care to 17,000 parents in New York City, and New York's Administration for Children's Services has launched new campaigns to encourage more potential foster parents to take adolescent and special needs children.
Chris Hondros via Getty Images

As Mandi and Tyler will tell you, there’s nothing more rewarding. There are several different ways to become a foster parent, and there are different kinds of foster parents. Meeting with representatives from an agency helps determine what form of license is right for people considering becoming foster parents.

The general process to become a foster parent

In most cases, the goal is to provide the necessary care to a child before they are reunited with their biological family. This means there are many different types of foster care, including traditional care, emergency care, medical care, short-term care and more.

Debbie McLaughlin, of Greenbush, Me., swings an infant and her 3-year-old grandson, both in foster care, her backyard on Friday, June 30, 2017. McLaughlin and her husband are fostering their grandson, who was born drug-affected to their daughter, along with an infant from another family. With more than 1,000 children born drug-affected in Maine each year, the foster care system in Maine is stretched thin to accommodate the growing crisis of children in need of healthy, safe, drug-free homes. In the past four years, McLaughlin estimates she and her husband have fostered around 15 children.
Tristan Spinski for The Washington Post via Getty Images

While most foster parents will tell you that becoming one is one of the most rewarding experiences in their lives, it’s not without its challenges — and it’s not for everyone. The first step in deciding if it’s right for you is to reach out to a local public or private agency and speaking with a representative.

Becoming a foster parent: Part 2

After speaking with a representative over the phone, the next step is usually an information meeting, where potential parents will learn more about foster care and receive the necessary forms and applications, as well as reading material regarding the rules and regulations involved with becoming a foster parent.

Treehouse resident Liz Poudrier hugs Sarah DAmato,19, who had just delivered her a hot Thanksgiving meal. DAmato wanted to give back to the community that raised her and has for the past few years prepared a Thanksgiving meal, which she distributes to all the elders at Treehouse. DAmato was placed in 25 foster families by the time she was 8 years old and was then adopted by Mary and Jack DAmato . The family spent the last 10 years living in the Treehouse community, where Sarah has flourished. She is a recent high school graduate and has just begun taking courses at Holyoke Community College I have like six grandmas here, says DAmato
Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Next, potential foster parents will usually undergo a home assessment and training process designed to ensure they are fully equipped to care for a child and gather information to identify potential matches. After completing a criminal background check, additional training (typically 10 to 30 hours), a home safety assessment, and providing references, the agency issues a license that allows a child to be placed under the care of the potential foster parents.

Another heartwarming foster care story

Much of what we associate with the foster care system is heartbreak and sadness, but there are many other stories like Hunter’s that are similarly heartwarming. Take  the story of Josh and Renee, who have two biological daughters of their own, but still foster as many children as they can. 

Josh and Renee, foster parents, caring for kids
AASK Arizona via Youtube

The couple provides foster children with love and care while they wait to be reunited with their biological parents. For Josh and Renee, their main goal is to help as many people as they can. This includes the parents of the children they care for.

“A lot of people think it’s just caring for the child, but if you can help with parenting skills with the parent … you can place a little bit of hope in that parents heart,” says Josh.

Josh and Renee’s story

Josh and Renee are licensed to care for newborns to 3-year-olds. In 2010, the couple fostered a total of seven children. While saying goodbye is hard for the couple and their two daughters, they say the rewarding feeling they get makes it all worth it.

kids on the carpet, two daughters, rewarding experience
AASK Arizona via Youtube

“It feels really good knowing that I have a part in these kids’ lives and I love the feeling that we can help,” said Renee and Josh’s 12-year-old daughter, Kylie. The family has made a difference not only in the kids who are in desperate need, but also in the parent’s lives who are given the opportunity for a second chance.