The horrific story of the 19-year-old who confessed to killing 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has shaken us all. Questions abound as to the shooter's background and what might have caused him to commit such a horrendous act of violence. The tragedy in Florida and the innocent lives lost will undoubtedly resonate in our country for years to come. Yet of late, much of the media has focused on the fact that the murderer, Nikolas Cruz, was a foster child and had been adopted at an early age.
The fact that Cruz was adopted and a foster child has no bearing on the killings and certainly did not "cause" him to commit these atrocities. Cruz suffered from a number of behavioral issues and anxieties, many of them perhaps from birth. Some suggest he suffered from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as well as reactive attachment disorder, and Cruz's attorney says the teen battled mental health issues including depression. Quite simply, the signs were there that Cruz was suffering. Yet while some people recognized that he was troubled, Cruz did not get the consistent help, therapeutic services and professional counseling he needed. The responsibility for this falls upon many shoulders, and hopefully all of us can learn from this tragic event.
But for those who are now left questioning their decision or hope to adopt or foster a child in need ("How," they may wonder, "will I know I'm not taking in someone like Cruz?"), please remember: His is not the face of adoption or of foster care. This is not the normal experience of families who care for children in need in their homes — or of the children who live in those homes, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently. In fact, the norm for adoption and foster care is quite the opposite: a healthy and life-changing experience for both child and adoptive or foster family.
My family has been blessed through the years with the adoption of three children from foster care. These three children have in so many ways brought joy into our lives, and I cannot imagine a life without any of them. In my eyes, there is no difference between my adopted or biological or foster children; they are all my children, regardless of genetics.
I certainly did not set out and plan to adopt these three children from foster care. Over the 15 years I have been a foster parent, I have had over 50 children come through my home, and only three were adopted. Some came to my home at roughly the same age as Nikolas Cruz. Recently, I had two 17-year-old homeless boys living with my family; they both needed a home and support during their final years in high school.
As part of an adoptive and foster family, my biological and adoptive children have been influenced in such positive ways by those foster children with whom they have lived and played and who they have learned from and have come to love. Our children have been introduced to a diversity of cultural beliefs and ways of thinking and have come to embrace differences. Additionally, my children have learned the joys that are found in adoption and have learned that family comes in different shapes, colors, sizes, etc. My own family, as a foster family, has included children from so many different ethnic identities and cultures. And as a result, my own children have a great deal of insight into and sensitivity toward the countless varying ways humans can look, act, think and be.
Let there be no mistake: Each child is unique; each child is special; and each child is deserving of love.
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