On February 15, 2017, 4-year-old Erin officially became a member of the Panico family after spending 1,385 days in foster care. In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, Erin’s mom, Linda, has shared her adoption story:

One of the best pieces of advice I was given before becoming a licensed foster mom was to shop around for the right agency. The minute my sister and I walked into Children’s Home + Aid, we knew we had found the right place – the atmosphere was welcoming and the diverse families in the room let me know that as a single mom, I would feel accepted.

On May 15, 2013 I received my official license from DCFS confirming that I was a foster parent. I was told it could be six months to a year before a placement and to be patient – the agency call will come. Ten days later, a friend I had met in the licensing class, called me. She had just received a call to place a 13-month-old baby girl, but she had to turn down the placement. Even though I was not with her agency, she told me to call her caseworker if I was able to help out, and they would figure out how to work between the two different agencies.  After many phone calls between the two agencies; this little girl was going to be transferred to Children’s Home + Aid and was going to come home with me.

On May 29, 2013, I went to the Children’s Home + Aid office and a gentleman walked in carrying a sleeping little girl and said, “you must be Linda” and with that handed me this beautiful little girl. That is the day our story began.

We called her baby E. She had been in foster care 20 days in a temporary home and was an only child. From the minute Baby E stepped into my life, she has been on the move. She is so full of personality and character, and very loving. She adapted quickly into her new home, childcare, family and friends, and anyone that met her couldn’t help but fall in love with her. Even so, we both had many tears and sleepless nights throughout her first three years in foster care, but the good always outweighed the bad.

Just as we finally settled into a routine, I received news that the Baby E’s birth mom was pregnant. The agency believed that is was likely the baby would go into foster care, and they would like to keep the siblings together. Erin was going to be a big sister and in August of 2014, we welcomed her baby brother, T, into our home. Now we had to start again with a new routine. As soon as things fell together and we were in our new routine, life changed again for us. The courts decided Baby T should go live with a relative of his birth mother. I understood that this was part of the process – to keep families together – but it didn’t make the goodbye any easier. Our lives were turned upside down yet again, and now her brother was gone – something that is not easy to explain to a 2.5-year-old.

After a long eight weeks of life without Baby T, the phone call came in and the family wanted Baby T to come back and live with us. While there is sadness that they can’t stay with their biological family, it was a sweet return for Baby E to be reunited with her brother. Our home was complete again.

Baby E’s case had moved forward and eventually led to adoption – a day I thought would never get here! No amount of training can actually prepare you for what will happen and how you will feel and all the emotions that go right along with it all. The finalizing of the adoption was an emotional day that I will always remember. I spoke with Baby E’s mom before trial and gave her a big hug. I know that the birth mom loved Baby E in her own way, and I prayed for her, knowing she lost her child.

After 1,385 days in foster care, Baby E had a real name that can be shared with everyone: Erin Karen Panico. There were over 30 people who came to court with us, including family, friends, Children’s Home +Aid agency staff and the guardian ad litem – all wearing shirts to celebrate Erin’s adoption day and welcome her into the family. It was a day I will never forget.

Baby T’s adoption paperwork is in progress and if it’s anything like Erin’s, we should be having a spring adoption in 2018.

When people say that Erin and T are lucky to have me, I tell them that they’re wrong. I am lucky to be their mom and be forever changed by them. I have a house full of laughter and joy, I get to wake up every morning and hear their giggles and laughter. They love unconditionally and are truly happy in their home. I am blessed by all of the people who have been by my side for these past three years, including my family, friends, amazing caseworkers, their guardian ad litem, and even the Chicago Police officer who was involved in the case originally – we are all family. My kids have an entire village that loves them, people that would move heaven and earth to help them in any way they need. I am the lucky one.