When Jackie Appleman became a certified foster care parent about seven years ago, she had no intention of adopting.
But five years in, she met Jessica and all of her plans went out the window.
It was 2 A.M. on a spring night in 2019. Jackie had been woken up by a call from the local foster care agency. Upon recognizing the number lighting up her phone, Jackie rolled back over and tried to fall asleep again.
She was already fostering a youth—a girl who was 18 and about to head off to college. Jackie was hoping that after that, she could take a break from fostering.
But God had other plans.
“I just heard very clearly, God calling, saying, ‘If I call, will you answer?’” Jackie said.
As Jackie began to process those words, her phone started to ring again. This time, Jackie answered.
The worker on the other end informed her that she had a nine-year-old girl who needed immediate placement.
Jackie bristled at the information. A nine-year-old girl? Jackie had always fostered teens. Teenagers had some independence which gave Jackie flexibility. Besides, she had already spent the last five years setting up systems and strategies for helping those older kids. She had no idea how to help a nine-year-old.
Despite her reservations, Jackie relented—on a condition.
“I’m assuming you need someone for her tonight,” she said, recognizing that it had to be an emergency situation. “I can take her tonight, but you’ll have to find another home for her.”
The worker on the other end hesitated.
“We can look,” she said. “But you’re the last home we have in the agency.”
With that news, Jackie realized she would be caring for the girl for at least 30 days. Then, the agency could find the girl another home.
Exhausted and emotional at the turn of events, Jackie prepared to meet her new foster child at 8 A.M.
That morning, when she walked into her living room and saw nine-year-old Jessica sitting on the couch, something changed. Immediately upon seeing that little girl, Jackie thought to herself, “Oh yeah—she’s not going anywhere.”
Thirty days came and went, and Jackie never submitted the papers to have Jessica placed with another family.
As time went on, Jessica’s need for a permanent caregiver became more and more apparent. Both of Jessica’s biological parents had terminated their parental rights and Jessica was eligible for adoption.
The foster care agency asked Jackie if she would consider adopting her.
“They kept asking me,” she said. “They asked me pretty early on if I would be open to adopting and I wouldn’t really give them an answer. I wasn’t saying ‘no,’ but I also wasn’t saying ‘yes,’ because that wasn’t the plan.”
As Jackie weighed the decision, she turned to God again.
“Just after a lot of prayer and discernment and feeling called that I was supposed to say yes…I did,” she said.
In March of 2020, about one year after first meeting Jessica, Jackie formally adopted her. Because Covid-19 lockdowns had just begun, the adoption took place over Zoom.
Today, Jessica is 12. She is about to enter the 6th grade. She loves horseback riding, dance, music, and theater. Additionally, she has experienced a number of happy milestones alongside Jackie.
In the last two-and-a-half years, Jackie has worked with Jessica on gross motor skills that she hadn’t gotten to practice while growing up. From catching a ball to learning to swim to riding a bike, Jessica finally got some of the hallmark experiences of just being a kid.
“It was kind of nice,” Jackie said. “Typically, if you were to get a nine-year-old, they’d have already learned these things, but I still got to have those experiences with her as a parent, so that was kinda cool.”
Even with all of the bright spots, Jackie says the transition was stressful. She had to learn how to plan for child care and provide more hands-on support for Jessica’s education.
She also has had to help Jessica work through her trauma in a more intensive way. She implemented a calming corner, which she has found essential for her and Jessica’s home life. She also found youth group therapy for Jessica, giving her a chance to meet peers who have had similar experiences and struggles.
Whenever she had fostered, Jackie had always ensured that her kids received therapy, as she believes it is a key component to fostering and adopting. For children who suffer abuse, the loss of one or more caregivers and then placement into foster care, there will undoubtedly be trauma.
It’s this trauma that Jackie wants more people to be aware of in thinking about foster care and adoption. As executive director of Right to Life Michiana in Indiana, she hopes to build more awareness about it.
“I find that in the pro-life movement, that sometimes people look at adoption as the greatest solution to abortion,” she said. “And I mean, it obviously is. It can be a beautiful solution. But really, I think we’re called in the pro-life movement to be providing a really thorough support to women and to birth mothers.
“Adoption—no matter the circumstance, no matter if it’s happening at birth or from an older kid or whatever—there’s trauma and loss involved,” Jackie said. “I feel like people don’t acknowledge and recognize that as part of the process.”
Instead of glossing over the pain that comes with adoption, Jackie believes people need to be aware of it.
“God can make good in all things and work beautifully in everybody’s lives through that process,” she said. “But being really sensitive to the fact that that is not just an easy and perfect solution…. My call is for people to recognize the challenges and the loss that comes with the adoption and foster process.”
Along with being respectful of both the trauma and beauty involved, Jackie wants people to consider their own calling regarding foster care and adoption. She recognizes that not everyone is called to do either. But she does believe everyone is called to support those who are.
As a single woman, she struggled with the decision to enter foster care for a long time. After much prayer and thoughtful dialogue with a friend, she decided to move forward.
“It was definitely a calling,” she said. “I was feeling called by God to do it and, and so He gave me the grace to work through those challenges. It’s not a calling for everybody. But if it is a thing you are called towards, you’ll get the grace to do it.”
For those who are hoping to support adoptive families and those providing foster care, Jackie believes even small gestures are meaningful.
“Not everybody is called to foster or adopt, but we are all called to support our community,” she said. “So if you’re not feeling called to foster or adopt, then I would encourage you to support the people that you do know that foster or adopt, whether that’s giving them a meal or babysitting, you know, once or twice a year. It can be really small things that can make a really big impact on the families.”