Meadville Tribune

July 8, 2013

This family is related by love

By Jane Smith
Special to the Tribune

HAYFIELD TOWNSHIP — Inspired by watching what happened when a friend of hers became a foster parent, Ann Snyder decided she’d give it a try. Little did she know that within a decade, Ann and her husband, Dan, would come to have five children to call their own.

Ann was working in a doctor’s office and “saw the change in the kid’s life and what a great mother she was; it really inspired me,” she said.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be a mother. Snyder said as a teenager, her goal in life was to be a mother. The Snyders had tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant. She saw a lot of “special needs” children who needed homes, so the couple decided to become foster parents.

Nowadays, the Snyders, who reside in Hayfield Township, are no longer foster parents. Instead, they now are parents of five children — three boys and two girls — all under the ages of 9. In just seven years, they became mom and dad to five children.

They adopted all of them after having them placed in their homes as foster children. They don’t use the term “adopted” when talking about their kids. They are their children — period. The children are aware they are adopted, but that’s not the important thing to this family.

Journey into parenthood

Their journey into parenthood started more than 14 years ago when the couple was called to take a 3-month baby into their home. She was a “shaking baby,” Ann said, referring to the fact the infant had been injured from being shaken so badly.

“We picked her up at Children’s Hospital and brought her home,” she recalled, noting the child had injuries from the abuse. The Snyders had the baby eight months until the child’s grandparents stepped forward and got custody.

“We were devastated,” Ann said.

However, Ann said, a friend reminded her “God will decide” about a child’s future and even while their own biological children parents aren’t guaranteed, they will be there forever. “You take it day by day and be grateful,” she said.

She took that to heart and soon another call came. It was for a newborn boy who was born with breathing and feeding issues. The couple went to the hospital “as soon as we got the call and got to hold and feed him,” she said, remembering the first few days of their oldest boy, Mark, who now is 9 years old. It took nearly three years for adoption to become final. Mark was diagnosed with autism but now is “doing fabulous.”

Five months after Mark came into their lives, Children and Youth Services called and asked if they were interested in another baby, who they named Cameron. Although he was the second child in their home, his adoption actually became final in two years and five months, so his final papers were signed before Mark’s. His grandparents wanted custody, but they were not deemed appropriate. The Snyders had two sons who were born five months apart.

Two and one-half years later, “we got another baby,” she said. Brooke was 6 weeks old. “We call her our Cinderella baby because we got her at midnight,” Ann said. She is Mark’s half-sister and has no special needs. Her adoption was final when she was 2 years old. She now is 7.

After Brooke came Chase, who now is 4 years old. He is a half-brother to Brooke and Mark. He was a newborn when “they brought him to us.” At 6 weeks old, he was returned to his mother’s custody. A month or two later, the CYS worker asked the Snyders if the mother could contact them; she needed help. “We said absolutely.” Eventually, the Snyders also adopted Chase. They were a happy family.

With three boys and only one girl, the Snyders decided they would like a little sister for their daughter. They contacted CYS to tell them of their decision.

The next day, they received a phone call. They had a 6-month old baby girl, who was a victim of severe neglect. Emilee’s adoption was final last November. She is now 3 years old.

A complete family

Their family was now complete. The couple had lived on Cussewago Road, but the growing family needed more space, so they moved to Mosiertown Road, where they have a 14-acre farmette.

The children all have animals. They have two ponies, which they all ride, but one belongs to Cameron and one belongs to Brooke.

“They asked for a pony for Christmas and Santa brought them,” Ann said.

Each child has his or her own bunny. The family also has ducks and chickens and the children help gather the eggs.

Each child also has his or her own personality, with Chase acting like his dad the outdoorsman and Brooke acting like her mom, a super-jock princess. Cameron is “really intelligent and inquisitive,” Ann said, while Mark is the superhero of the bunch.

Though all five are adopted, Ann said people are always telling the couple that some of their children look like them.

“We have been blessed, absolutely,” she said. “God has a sense of humor for a childless couple to end up with five kids.”

Ann would absolutely recommend foster parenting and/or adoption to anybody who loves children and wants to make a difference in a child’s life — but also in their own lives. She is a stay-at-home mother and her husband works at Meadville Forging. She admits that sometimes when her husband is working, it’s a challenge to get the children to all the places they need to be. But it’s a challenge she enjoys.

Ann was 25 when she became a mother for the first time. She believes there is no bigger thrill than having a child call her mother.

The Snyders initially thought they would like two or three kids. But when the opportunity came to take the three siblings, they wanted them.

“We were trying to keep the siblings together,” Dan said.

His favorite time of the day is when the kids come home from school and share their experiences. He loves hearing his children talk.

“We had the ability to do this and provide a loving environment to the children we adopted,” Dan said. “It’s very rewarding. I don’t think of them as adopted, I think of them as my own. There is really no difference. I would not trade them for anything.”

By Jane Smith

Special to The Tribune

Although described as a “small operation,” the Child to Family Connections has been successful in placing children needy homes into foster care and ultimately adoption in 90 percent of the time.

Founded in 2002, Child to Family Connections is a private, non-profit agency to help match children with parents. Karen Cross is director of the agency, which is located in Meadville.

Marie Schwartz, foster care supervisor for the local agency, said last year 13 families finalized adoption proceedings. But, there is still a big need for foster parents — now who are being called by the term “resource parent,” who are open to becoming adoptive parents as well. Especially needed are people willing to become a parent of a “special needs” child and especially teenagers, Schwartz said.

Some children are placed in homes for only a short period of time — usually until other family members can be contacted to see whether their family members are available to take care of a child. These are children who have been removed from their home on a permanent basis aftter being given up voluntarily or involuntarily by their biological parents.

Schwartz said sometimes the foster parent may have a child for two or three years and then the court returns the child to the natural parents. “There is no guarantee,” she said. The first goal for Children and Youth Services — the agency which is responsible for the children — is for reunification. The second goal is for adoption — to give that child a permanent home.

State criteria must be met for people to become a foster or adoptive parent. First, they must be 21 years of age. They can be single or married and be in good physical and emotional health.

They must be able to provide a “stable, loving and nurturing home,” Schwartz added. Inspections are made of the home, but the home doesn’t have to be a mansion. It must have drinkable water (either on a municipal system or a well), smoke detectors on all floors, locks on all medicine cabinets or cabinets containing something dangerous to children, fire extinguishers, and separate beds for each child (not necessarily separate bedrooms though). Parents must have first aid and CPR training as well.

Schwartz said new state and federal regulations have allowed adoptions to become final much sooner than in the past. Where it once took as long as six years, it now can be done in one to two years.

She said the agency attempts to place children in homes within the same school district in which they are now attending so there is less disruption in their lives — especially during a school year.

For children with specific special needs, some financial assistance is available to help with medical and/or other needs.

Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent or an adoptive parent may contact Schwartz at 333-3007.