Written by Washington Foster Team
Sara Cunningham and her husband Mike always wanted a family. But by the time Sara was 25, she knew it was unlikely that they’d be able to have children. A visit to the Center of Reproductive Medicine confirmed that she had a 2% chance of getting pregnant. “We tried IVF, we tried everything, and it just would not work,” says Sara.
After this blow, they decided to take a break. And it was in this moment that they had a revelation.
“We knew that there were so many children in Washington State that were ready to be adopted and fostered. And when we both looked at each other, we knew exactly what to do,” says Sara.
With that, they decided to commit themselves to helping foster children grow up in a loving home. What started with a desire to adopt turned into the realization that reunification is the best thing that can happen for those in foster care.
Fostering Sibling Connections
After making their decision, Sara and Mike began the process of becoming licensed foster parents. As a young couple, they were especially qualified since Sara was an early childhood development specialist. In 2007, they got placed with their first foster child, a six-month-old baby boy named James whom they hoped to adopt.
A few months later, they got a call that James’ mother was pregnant with a girl. The choice to accept the placement of James’ sister was a no-brainer for Sara and Mike. There was no other choice but to take in his sibling and treat her as their own. The siblings were then united in a safe and happy home while their biological mother worked on her own issues of dependency.
It wasn’t long before Sara and Mike had the opportunity to adopt James and his sister. Today, they’re 12 and 10 years old, thriving, and uniquely aware of the journey that brought them to their adoptive parents. Because after Sara and Mike adopted James and his sister, they sought to support other foster children through reunification.
Reunification Offers Life Lessons
“Every day is a learning experience.” — Sara Cunningham
Since adopting, Sara and Mike have fostered five children, reuniting several of them with their biological parents. As Sara saw it, fostering offered a chance for her to teach her own adopted kids about where they came from.
“With our oldest kiddos, we wanted to have the opportunity to show them what a caseworker does and what resources they had as a baby. We wanted to open that conversation and hopefully give them answers to any questions they had,” recalls Sara.
Throughout their time as foster parents, Sara and her family have embraced the process of reunification, and developed tools to foster support for a child and their biological parents.
“Our first goal is to be able to talk to the parents, to see how they’re doing, to understand what their process is and how they feel about everything. We want to connect with them and let them know their child is okay in our hands,” says Sara. “It helps ease their tensions so they can focus on figuring out what they’re doing with themselves.”
Through reunification, the Cunningham’s have met lots of families and connected with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They’ve formed strong bonds with many, but they acknowledge it’s not always easy.
Sara notes, “All families are very different. Some are very welcoming and helpful with the process and stay connected after reunification. Others have shut that door after a child has transitioned out of our home. Just be prepared for that.”
But at the end of the day, putting forth the effort toward reunification is always worth it for the Cunninghams.
“Because you know that they have a culture. They have a family. They're meant to be together. There is a true bond when it comes to having an actual family member be there for that child and understand the story that they came from.”
Want to learn more about the goal of reunification, and find out if you’re ready to support a foster child who needs you in Washington State? Download our free resource: Is Foster Parenting Right For You?