Why I Support Listening to Parents

By Nia Vardalos

Nia Vardalos is the actress and writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the number one romantic comedy and one of the highest-grossing independent feature films in history. 

I’m an actress and writer.

I’m also a mom.

My husband and I were matched with our daughter through American Foster Care. There are 129,000 legally freed children in foster care, just waiting for a home. The process of adopting through foster care is actually quite simple. But, finding the information on how to adopt was not easy.

I’d like to change that.

I support Listening To Parents because every child deserves a permanent family. The best way to achieve that goal is to change the adoption system and make it more welcoming to the very parents who are trying to adopt these children.

Here is a bit of my story, adapted from a piece I wrote for the Huffington Post:

A few years ago, my husband Ian Gomez and I adopted a little girl.

…not because an adopted child seems to be the latest Hollywood must-have accessory. But because, after ten years of banging my head against the brick wall of infertility, I accepted there was another plan for me. And (cue music swell) motherhood turned out to be the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done with my life. Really.

It wasn’t easy to adopt an American child. I tried many routes that fell through or didn’t work out. Then I waited on many lists. The phone didn’t ring.

A common misconception is that to get a kid you just have to go to another country and be as pretty as Angelina Jolie. As studio executives and movie reviewers have informed me again and again — I’m not.

So I asked — don’t we have orphanages in the States? I found out no, we don’t. But we do have 500,000 kids in foster care. 129,000 are legally freed for adoption and waiting for a family. I was stunned.

I realized there was simply no reason to not adopt an “older child.” Why not? 129,000 legally freed children with no home? In a white hot moment, I knew this was what I had been waiting for.

And now I want to write that it was really easy. But, no. No, it wasn’t.

Not sure who to approach, I went directly to the State and said I was open to any sex, age and ethnic background. They were not exactly welcoming. In fact, they were abrupt and off-putting and said it would take quite a while before a child was placed in my home. I asked about the 129,000 children who were already legally freed. I was told there was a process and that I had to be patient through the legal system. I explained I thought I would be connected with a child who was waiting for a home. Again, they explained I had to trust their procedures. I now felt apprehensive, thinking I might get lost in yet another situation that wouldn’t resolve in a positive way. I worried I was entering a very bureaucratic situation.

At this point, it had been years of trying so many routes, of waiting on so many lists. Then, I remembered… when I was in the cast at The Second City, we used to improvise in front of an audience. That’s a trapeze without a net. In this same way, I felt…I just had to jump. So I said, “okay!”

I was sent away with a thick packet of fingerprinting forms and a daunting Home Study kit.

Then, I discovered something – a Foster Family Agency. That’s when things finally accelerated.

While it sounds like a private adoption agency – it’s not. First of all, it’s a free service. An FFA is a network of social workers who will help you through the process. They’ll guide you through the paperwork, home study and evaluations. They are wonderful, kind and compassionate people.

Nine months later we were “matched” with our then-three year old daughter. Working with a private attorney, our adoption was finalized within a year.

And yes, she is perfect. When our daughter came to live with us, she turned our house into a home. To say she’s adapted well would be a huge understatement. The experience of transitioning this child was astonishing and well, just too personal to go into now. We kept it quiet for almost a year to protect her privacy and to give her time to adjust.

Then, as the holidays approached, my husband and I thought about all those kids in foster care waiting for a family. We decided to announce our daughter’s adoption to raise awareness of National Adoption Month. Since then, I have become active in promoting the adoption of children from foster care. I am the National Adoption Day spokesperson because there are so many perfect kids out there, like our daughter, who are just waiting for a home.

So, why do I support Listening to Parents? Because I know, from first hand experience, that too many parents find the process of adopting from foster care to be illogical and unnecessarily difficult. I’ve met many parents who either weren’t properly informed of how easy it is, or gave up on the system, and adopted infants or went abroad. I would never disparage anyone who goes outside their own country to adopt – a family is a family. But, the expenses and unknown factors of going abroad are erased when adopting from American foster care. It is virtually cost-free and the entire history of the child must be, by law, disclosed. And, foster care does not discriminate – it is open to all prospective parents. There are 129,000 American kids waiting in foster care. And, statistics show there are far more parents than that, trying to adopt.

I believe in the mission of Listening to Parents- to remove the unnecessary barriers that keep kids in foster care. I support Listening to Parents and hope you will too.