This week’s Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family™” series installment focuses on Diligent Recruitment of foster-adopt parents for deaf and hard-of-hearing foster children with the story of Rob and Ty, an engineer and an American Sign Language interpreter who have opened their hearts to two toddlers with connections to the deaf community.
Imagine being a deaf two-and-a-half year old with no communication skills and then suddenly being removed from the only home you ever knew. For little Nina (not her real name), fortune shined on her when she was moved from two consecutive foster homes into the loving home of Robert Edwards, 32, an engineering project manager, and Ty Blake-Holden, 30, a sign language interpreter.
“Nina’s communicating was just squinting and screaming at the time, so the first thing we did was to teach her the basic signs,” explained Rob. “The original audiology report said she was profoundly deaf in one ear and moderately deaf in the other ear, but after we took her to another audiologist, we learned she does have residual hearing. Now that she has hearing aids, she is learning both speech and American Sign Language.”
Joseanna Moseby of Five Acres, a foster care and adoption agency based in Altadena, Calif., found Ty and Rob through the agency’s Diligent Recruitment program, arising from a federal grant to address the lack of permanency for deaf and hard-of-hearing children in foster care. Moseby collaborates with the Los County Department of Children and Family Services’ Deaf Unit in Covina to recruit, train, and certify parents and families to take in the children and be able to provide them with deaf language (American Sign Language or ASL) and deaf culture.
“Deaf culture is a way of life, just as with any culture,” explained Moseby, who earned her masters in social work at Gallaudet University, the world's only institution of higher education devoted to deaf and hard-of-hearing students. “Just as with any culture, there are norms and certain things that are accepted. For instance, with the deaf culture you need to know how to get a person’s attention properly. You can tap them, wave within eyesight, or flicker a light switch.”
In addition to these norms, deaf culture includes its own jokes, history, theater and poetry. Understanding deaf technology is also important for fost-adopt parents. They need to understand things like listening devices, cochlear implants and video phones, which can also be used as a video relay system to communicate with hearing people. Texting can limit expression. With a live interpreter by video, the American Sign Language components, including movement of the face and torso, can be fully expressed and understood.
“When a deaf child comes into the home, the Diligent Recruitment foster parent already understands these things,” said Moseby. “They understand that the child needs a video phone and how it works, and they can better understand the academic needs of the child, such as what kind of school is best for them. We tell them to help the child get involved in the deaf community, such as taking the child to a deaf church.”
While Ty is fluent in ASL, Rob only has about 100 signs, but he knows all the baby signs so he’s several steps ahead of Nina, who is now three. They have also been placed with two-and-a-year-old Marco (not his real name), who is hearing but whose biological mother is deaf.
Ty learned ASL through immersion at California State University Northridge where he joined a deaf fraternity on a whim and also pursued two Bachelors degrees in Business and Intercultural Communication (ASL). In 2007, Ty moved to Washington, DC, for an interpreting internship. Within a few days he met Rob, who was working as a nuclear engineer in the Navy. A lasting romance led to their wedding in August 2010 at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, CA. They obtained a marriage license the following year in New York.
Ty and Rob, who live in Long Beach, CA, always knew they wanted children, though they disagreed on the number. Ty was ready for five kids, but they compromised at three. Ty’s flexible schedule helps with caring for Marco and Nina. Marco is in daycare and Nina attends a Long Beach public school’s Deaf program for three year olds. Although they’d like to take in other children in the future, they have their hands full for the moment.
Because Ty’s sister, who lives an hour away, has already fostered and adopted children, Ty and Rob have already experienced the joy -- and sometimes heartache -- of adopting through foster care and are dedicated to providing as much love as possible to any child who is in their care, no matter how long the child stays. Nina is on schedule to be reunified with her biological family this November. Rob and Ty are hopeful they will be able to adopt Marco, but understand that reunification is a strong possibility.
“Ty and Rob are spectacular parents in meeting the needs of both children, who are at very different stages and with completely different family situations,” said Moseby. “Permanency is our primary goal -- whether through reunification or adoption. Ty and Rob accept it and understand the importance of maintaining a relationship with the birth family if that’s in the best interests of the child. They’ve done a great job as foster parents and have made a positive impact on both children’s lives whether the children are reunified with their birth families or whether they are staying with them forever.”
Corinne Lightweaver is the Communications Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns and events to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,200 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US.