Before their worlds collided, their lives looked a lot different.

She was fresh out of college, dreaming of her next big adventure.

He was in and out of homes, dreaming of some sense of stability.

In one another, they found both.

Paige Bramlett met William in August 2019, when she began working with him at a Franklin elementary school. Bramlett had just started as a behavior support specialist. William had just started kindergarten.

Paige Bramlett, right, poses with her son, William, on his adoption day Oct. 12. Bramlett met William in August 2019 when she was working as a behavior support specialist at his school. She started fostering him in January 2020, and adopted him this past October. Submitted photo

At the time, he was acting out in school, and was one of Bramlett’s first assignments. In the two years since, they’ve worked through the trauma William experienced during his toddler and preschool years, and their relationship developed beyond the four walls of the classroom. Bramlett became William’s foster parent in January 2020. This October, she became his mom after legally adopting him.

The need for foster and adoptive parents is great. There are nearly 1,400 children in need of homes around the state. In Johnson County alone, there are 13 children in need of homes, 10 of whom are waiting to be adopted, a spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Child Services said Tuesday.

“There is a significant need for foster and adoptive parents in Indiana, especially for older children and teens. The majority of the children in Indiana Adoption Program are over the age of 8. Some of them wait years for an adoptive family, sometimes because they have additional challenges, and sometimes because prospective families have misconceptions about older children who are in need of permanent families,” said Erin Carter, adoption and recruitment director at Children’s Bureau, Inc.. The Children’s Bureau is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that helps children and families overcome the challenges that sometimes lead to unhealthy behaviors and threaten a child’s well-being.

Bramlett, 26, never thought about fostering or adopting before she met William. She still dreams of all the things most 20-somethings dream about — meeting the one, getting married, having more children. But she’s also a single mom.

“I know from the outside, it looks crazy. A single, 24 year old (at the time) fostering a student, welcoming a child into her family before even starting a family of her own. But I had tunnel vision and had one goal set on this child having permanency, love and safety, whether that be in my home or somewhere else,” Bramlett said.

“My friends are all newlyweds, first-time moms to newborns, and then there’s me — parenting a child with trauma. It is hard, messy, difficult, frustrating, amazing, fun, rewarding,” she said.

The Bramlett’s shared their adoption story last month on Good Morning America. Now, Paige Bramlett, left, is encouraging everyone to consider fostering or adopting, but more importantly, to become trauma informed. Submitted photo

Together, the Whiteland residents are on a mission — through word of mouth and more recently, TikTok and national media such as “Good Morning America” — to encourage everyone who comes in contact with children in foster care, regardless of their profession, to be patient with them, understand the effects of trauma and learn how to approach interactions with those who have experienced it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has deemed trauma experienced by children as a public health issue. Traumatic experiences during childhood can have far-reaching consequences in the future, including high blood pressure and gastrointestinal issues, difficulty maintaining employment and trouble with personal relationships. Research by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente, a health care group, has shown that traumas can disrupt a child’s development, lead to increased suicidal ideation and negate coping mechanisms.

William was reluctant at first, but with time, Bramlett cracked his shell, she said.

Every day, she would walk into William’s classroom, get down next to his desk and say, ‘Let me see your handsome smile.’”

And she always brought suckers, he said.

“We kind of fought like we already knew each other,” Bramlett said. “Then it really got to the point where we were spending so much time together, but he was only in school for three hours, and I hated when he would leave. We developed a whole routine. I’d take him to his bus and we’d give each other a big hug and he wouldn’t want to let go.”

He felt safe to tell Bramlett things he didn’t feel safe telling anybody else. He trusted her.

“So many children are labeled ‘the bad kid’ when really they are just having bad experiences at home or at school. These students need to learn coping skills, emotional regulation and how to be a kid,” Bramlett said. “So many children are now left behind in the educational setting due to having this label. Instead of asking, ‘What is wrong with you? Why are you this way?’ We need to start asking, ‘What happened to you?’ and ‘What can I do to help meet where you are?’”

At some point, her focus shifted from how she could help her student improve his behavior at school, to how she could help this little boy she loved permanently.

She realized William thrived on consistency and structure. He likes to know what’s coming next. But for a long time, he didn’t have that, she said.

The long road to adoption started with a simple Google search: How to stay in touch with a child in foster care. She was looking for another job, but she didn’t want to lose touch with him.

Bramlett met with William’s caseworker, and before she knew it, she was a licensed foster parent — his foster parent.

“I remember texting my mom and dad — they were out of town — and I said, ‘Hey. I’m considering becoming William’s forever placement — his forever home,’” she said. “There was really no question other than my dad saying, ‘You know that’s a lifelong commitment. It’s not just babysitting.’”

Now, looking back, it’s all a blur. But she felt called by God to do it, she said.

“It just happened. It just worked out. I don’t know what sparked it. It was such a natural transition for both of us, I think,” she said.

They were on a family vacation in Florida the first time William called her mom. She was Miss Paige for a long time, and she never told him she was his mom. He realized it himself.

“She treated me like a mommy would. She took good care of me,” said William, now 7.

Whiteland residents Paige Bramlett, 26, and William Bramlett, 7, pose for a photo with their new puppy, Banks, Thursday at Bakehouse 1823 in Franklin. Bramlett, a former behavioral support specialist, adopted William, her former student, in October. Photo by James Vaughn | Daily Journal

He snuggled up next to her at a Franklin coffee shop and drank a strawberry banana smoothie, his favorite.

Small sips, she said, and he obliged.

“He has come so far in such a short amount of time. He didn’t know his numbers or ABC’s in kindergarten and now he is reading grade level and loves math,” Bramlett said. “We’re really starting to find our groove, and now he’s spoiled rotten. He’s the man of the house.”

But he’s not healed — not completely — and likely never will be.

“I think a lot of people think that loving a child and giving them what they want can erase what happened to them. But trauma rewires the brain,” Bramlett said. “When I first started working with William, I didn’t really know what trauma meant. I thought it meant a car accident or an abusive relationship. I had no idea that it happens so often to children. You don’t know about it until you want to know about it. And once you know about it, you don’t forget about it. It’s one of those things that you can’t unsee or undo or unthink about.”

William still has a long road ahead, but they’ll forge it together, little by little. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it, she said.

“He’s not the lucky one,” Bramlett said of William. “Children (who are) adopted or in foster care are not ‘lucky’ — it is not luck that removes you from your biological parents. We are born into this world to be with our biological families. Adoption is just as much a loss as it is a gain. I am the lucky one.

“You don’t have to go and adopt your student to make a difference. There are so many resources that people don’t realize are out there. … There are so many ways to help. It doesn’t have to be this.”

For Bramlett, it doesn’t feel any different now that it’s official.

But for William, it does.

“You’re my mommy,” he said.

“Yeah, you’re stuck with me forever,” she shot back, laughing.

William giggled and she pulled him in close. This is their life now.

AT A GLANCE

In Indiana, foster parents must be licensed by the Department of Child Services. The requirements for licensure include:

  • Must be at least 21 years of age
  • Passing a criminal history and background check that includes a fingerprint-based national history
  • Demonstrating financial stability
  • Own or renting your own home that meets physical safety standards (e.g., fire extinguishers, adequate bedroom space, reliable transportation)
  • Medical statements from a physician for all household members
  • Successful completion of pre-service training requirements
  • Successful completion of First Aid, CPR and Universal Precautions training
  • Positive personal reference statements
  • Foster parents do not need to be married. They may be single or cohabitating. A live-in relationship with a significant other or same-sex partner should be established for at least one year to demonstrate stability.
  • Home visits from the Regional Licensing Specialist
  • Completing all required forms within the licensing packet

To learn more or to start the process of becoming a foster parent, go to fostercare.in.gov.

Source: Indiana Department of Child Services

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

What is adoption?

The voluntary acceptance of a child of other parents to be the same as one’s own child.

What does it take to become an adoptive parent?

To be considered a potential adoptive placement for a child from Indiana’s foster care system, you must:

1. Complete 16 hours of Resource/Adoptive Parent Training

2. Connect with a social worker at a licensed child placing agency, who will complete your family’s adoption preparation assessment or home study, which will include various background checks, financial and medical information, along with biographical information and preferences regarding types of children you may be interested in adopting.

​3. Become Recommended to Adopt. To become Recommended, a family must have a completed home study and have completed 16 hours of training. Your preparation agency will need to present your home study at the Indiana Adoption Council to become Recommended to Adopt.

If your preparation agency has questions about the Recommendation process, please have them email [email protected]

How can I get the process started?

Interested adoptive parents can being by filling out a form at indianaadoptionprogram.org/form.