HARTFORD — Foster parents Sarah and Rodney DeMerchant of Meriden returned from vacation on Christmas Eve in 2016 to have two babies arrive into their home.
“We had seven-month-old twins dropped off at our house,” Sarah DeMerchant said. “These are babies. This is their first Christmas.”
The DeMerchants and their daughter Riley did what they could to make Gabriel and Galyez comfortable in their temporary home. The twins’ older sibling Aryan, had gone to another home with a social worker in New Haven, the same social worker who had their mother on her caseload at age 8.
The three children were reunited with their biological parents Tiffany Strain and Gabriel Mercado a year after receiving guidance and support from the state Department of Children and Families and having the foster parents involved in their care.
The biological parents joined the foster parents Monday and state child advocates to share their reunification story at a DCF sponsored event at the iHeart Radio Dunkin’ Music Lounge in Hartford.
Speakers included state Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, Margaret Doherty, executive director of the Connecticut Alliance for Foster and Adoptive Families, DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes and State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan.
“Foster parents who partner with a child’s biological parent, I’ve seen that work in ways that can be awe inspiring,” Eagan said.
Several days after the twins arrived that Christmas Eve, a nervous Sarah DeMerchant reached out by phone to Strain, who had not seen the children in a month.
DeMerchant was not sure what to expect.
“I knew Tiffany had grown up in the DCF foster care system,” DeMerchant said. “I knew she had a tough time. I told her ‘I’m here to work with you and Gabriel.’”
Strain was in 28 different placements as a child growing up in the state’s system. She acknowledged Monday that much of it was her own fault because her running away sabotaged stable placements.
Jacquelyn Diggs was Strain’s social worker back then and is now a social work supervisor for DCF in New Haven.
“She was a runner,” Diggs told the group. “She would sit for hours in my office waiting for placement.”
When Strain moved away, Diggs sought and received training to become Strain’s mentor to maintain contact. As she got older they reconnected on social media and when Strain’s children needed to enter foster care, Diggs was part of the care plan.
“I couldn’t take all three but we can take one,” Diggs said.
She took Aryan, who was under two years old at the time, and put pictures of his parents and siblings on the walls to help him feel more comfortable.
“Because the relationship we had was good, he knew his family was our family,” Diggs said. “We continue to have contact with Aryan.”
Strain and Mercado attended parenting classes and received intense counseling, while having supervised visits with their children. The foster parents also stayed in touch by phone.
“You work in partnership with the birth family,” DeMerchant said. The children “are family to us, they stay for the weekend.”
DeMerchant then turned to Strain and said, “I’m proud of you Tiffany, you’ve done remarkable. Thank you for trusting us.”
Strain and Mercado, who live in Bristol, plan to be married next month.
May is national foster care awareness month. Those interested in more information can call 888-KidHero or go to www.ctfosteradopt.com.