Couple forges new family through adoption
Throughout the past five years, Amanda Ratcliffe has welcomed 14 foster children into her home. She remembers one 4-year-old boy who was found on the side of the road wearing only a diaper.
A trucker had spotted him and called the police.
“He said he was looking for food and friends,” Ratcliffe said. “He wanted someone to play with and to eat something.”
These are the type of children Ratcliffe, 29, and her husband Thomas Ratcliffe, 30, have welcomed into their home over the years. As of Saturday they will have adopted five of them. They also have a son of their own.
“It’s really challenging, but it’s worth it because these are kids. We didn’t adopt babies,” she said. “The youngest is 7 now and the oldest just turned 12.”
“Typically at a certain age their chances of adoption go down to 20 percent,” she said. “Once they reach 9 or 10 it becomes really difficult.”
On Wednesday last week, Mayor Bob Crowell invited the family to Carson City to signal National Adoption Awareness month. He read the family a proclamation signed by Gov. Jim Gibbons.
The children arrived in collared shirts and dresses. Ratcliffe said she allowed her adopted children and her biological son to choose their middle names: Justin Eagle, 7; Cheyenne Aurora, 11; Jarrod Kobra, 11; Jason Wolf, 10; and Angelica Starr, 12. Their biological son is Jonathon Tyger Ratcliffe, 10.
Angelica, one of two children formally adopted on Saturday, detailed the moment she learned she and her brother, Jason, would be taken in by the Ratcliffes: “I think when we first heard we were like, ‘Whooooo!’ It was very exciting for us and it still is.”
But, there are still more than 5,100 foster children in Nevada, most awaiting an adoption, according to the state’s Division of Child and Family Services. Of those children, 880 are in Washoe County, 444 in the rural counties, including Carson City, and the rest are in Clark County.
Over the past 12 months, 56 children have been adopted in Carson City and another 28 placed in homes awaiting the adoption to be finalized.
Opening their home
The Ratcliffes’ journey to opening their home to foster children started 10 years ago when Amanda gave birth to twins. Both were affected by a rare condition that enlarged their hearts, and six months after their birth one of her infant children died of an upper respiratory virus. Her surviving child is Jonathon Tyger.
Amanda could no longer have another child.
“Basically the doctor said if I ever got pregnant again, I’d lose the pregnancy,” Ratcliffe said.
About a year after that ordeal, Ratcliffe was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer.
She said the cancer was found early enough that after six months of treatment she’s still cancer free. It was soon after that experience when the Ratcliffes decided to open their home to foster children.
“We kind of felt the calling to adopt and everything we read about adoption was foster first, you’re taking care of someone else’s child,” Ratcliffe said.
She adds, “Some of these kids come in so damaged that they don’t know how to accept love. Detachment disorder, that’s one of the most difficult things to do. Anytime someone gets close, they have learned to push away. Part of the problem is sticking in there even when they’re pushing away until they reach the point when they can accept love and be a part of a family.”
Today, the family lives in a six-bedroom home in Reno.
Thomas Ratcliffe works for a local construction company and is working online toward an environmental science degree through Oregon State University. Amanda stays at home.
A typical day for the Ratcliffes starts around 6 a.m. The children are at school by 8:15 a.m. After school some will have therapy appointments or extracurricular activities such with the Masonic Youth Organization and choirs.
“On the weekends we volunteer with Friends of Nevada Wilderness when they have events going on,” Ratcliffe said. “And then every year the kids look forward to it, the Carson City American Cancer Society Relay for Life.”
The children have a favorite dinner, too, which Ratcliffe said they named themselves: “Dirty diapers.”
It’s a homemade pastry filled with chicken, hot peppers, broccoli and sauce.
“That is one of their favorite meals,” she said.
‘Nobody gave up on him’
Gregory Giron, a clinical psychologist in Carson City who has treated some of the Ratcliffes’ foster children, said Amanda understood the challenges of taking in foster children, noting the boy who was found on the side of the road who eventually found comfort in the Ratcliffes’ home.
“They just found the idea of having a big family was just something they really wanted,” Giron said. “And coming into foster care that somehow their dream could be realized and realize the dream of an abandoned child. (Amanda) had a good sensibility about her.”
He said that abandoned boy was repaired when he lived with the Ratcliffes – emotionally and physically – learning that he had value once more.
“There’s nothing worse than an unloved child,” Giron said. “Now you have a child who’s homeless… that is very sad. That is a tragedy. So when someone is looking to adopt, that is someone saying you have a value, we will take you if you will take us.”
A distant family member eventually adopted that boy and he’s now living in Clovis, Calif. His mother is in prison on drug-related offenses.
“They chose… to leave everything behind and let him move on,” Ratcliffe said. “We don’t hear from him. We were told that he wanted to talk to us.”
Even though she tried to adopt the boy, which his mother supported, Ratcliffe said she understands the boy will hopefully benefit from a life with a blood-relative.
“I can see that gives identity later on in life,” Ratcliffe said. “He was successfully adopted, nobody gave up on him and I know he’s very loved.”