Before their worlds collided, their lives were very different.
She had just graduated from college, dreaming of her next big adventure.
He came and went home, dreaming of a certain sense of stability.
All in all, they found both.
Paige Bramlett met William in August 2019, when she started working with him at an elementary school in Franklin. Bramlett had just started as a behavioral support specialist. William had just entered kindergarten.
At the time, he was playing in school and was one of Bramlett’s first assignments. Over the next two years, they overcame the trauma William experienced during his toddler and preschool years, and their relationship grew beyond the four walls of the classroom. Bramlett became William’s foster parent in January 2020. In October, she became his mother after legally adopting him.
The need for foster and adoptive parents is great. There are nearly 1,400 children in need of homes across the state. In Johnson County alone, 13 children are in need of a home, 10 of whom are awaiting adoption, a spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Children’s Services said on Tuesday.
“There is a great need for foster and adoptive parents in Indiana, especially for older children and teens. The majority of children in Indiana’s adoption program are over 8 years old. Some of them wait years for an adoptive family, sometimes because they have additional challenges, and sometimes because potential families have misconceptions about older children who need permanent families. said Erin Carter, director of adoption and recruitment at Children’s Bureau, Inc. The Children’s Bureau is an Indianapolis-based non-profit organization that helps children and families overcome the challenges that sometimes lead to unhealthy behaviors and threaten the well-being of a child.
Bramlett, 26, never thought about placement or adoption until he met William. She still dreams of all the things most young people in their twenties dream of – meeting this one, getting married, having more children. But she is also a single mother.
“I know from the outside it looks crazy. A 24-year-old bachelor (at the time) who welcomed a student, welcomed a child into her family even before starting her own family. But I had tunnel vision and I had a goal set for this child to have permanence, love and security, whether in my home or elsewhere, ”said Bramlett.
“My friends are all newlyweds, first-time mothers of a newborn baby, and then there’s me – raising a traumatized child. It’s tough, messy, difficult, frustrating, amazing, fun, rewarding, ”she said.
Together, the residents of Whiteland are on a mission – through word of mouth and most recently, TikTok and national media such as “Good Morning America” - to encourage all who come into contact with foster children, whatever their profession, to be patient with them, understand the effects of trauma and learn to deal with interactions with those who have lived through it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has considered trauma to children a public health problem. Traumatic childhood experiences can have far-reaching consequences in the future, including high blood pressure and gastrointestinal issues, difficulty keeping a job, and problems with personal relationships. Research by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente, a healthcare group, has shown that trauma can disrupt a child’s development, lead to increased suicidal ideation, and override coping mechanisms.
William was reluctant at first, but over time Bramlett cracked his shell, she said.
Every day she walked into William’s classroom, sat next to her desk and said, “Let me see your beautiful smile. “
And she always brought suckers, he said.
“We kind of fought like we already knew each other,” said Bramlett. “Then we got to the point where we spent so much time together, but he was only in school for three hours and I hated when he left. We have developed a whole routine. I took him on his bus and we gave each other a big hug and he didn’t want to let go.
He felt safe telling Bramlett things he didn’t feel safe saying to anyone else. He trusted her.
“So many kids are labeled ‘the wrong kid’ when in reality they’re just having bad experiences at home or at school. These students need to learn coping skills, emotional regulation and how to be a child, ”said Bramlett. “So many children are now being left behind in education because of this etiquette. Instead of asking, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why are you like that?’ We need to start asking ourselves, “What happened to you?” And “What can I do to help you meet where you are?” “
At one point her focus shifted from how she could help her student improve his behavior in school, to how she could help this little boy she loved all the time.
She realized that 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 foster child. She was looking for another job, but she didn’t want to lose contact with him.
Bramlett met William’s social worker, and before she knew it she was a licensed foster parent – his foster parent.
“I remember texting my mom and dad – they weren’t in town – and I said, ‘Hey. I envision becoming William’s forever placement – his forever home, ”she said. “There really was no question other than my dad saying, ‘You know this is a lifelong commitment. It’s not just about babysitting. ‘”
Now, looking back, everything is blurry. But she felt called by God to do it, she said.
“It just happened. It just worked. I don’t know what triggered 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 his mother. She was Miss Paige for a long time, and she never told him that she was his mother. He realized it himself.
“She treated me like a mom would. She took good care of me, ”said William, now 7.
He snuggled up next to her in a Franklin cafe and had a strawberry banana smoothie, her favorite.
Small sips, she said, and he obeyed.
“He has come so far in such a short time. He didn’t know his numbers or ABCs in kindergarten and now he reads his grade level and loves math, ”said Bramlett. “We’re really starting to find our rhythm, and now he’s spoiled rotten. He’s the man of the house.
But he’s not cured – not completely – and probably 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 the trauma rewires the brain, ”said Bramlett. “When I started working with William, I didn’t really know what trauma meant. I thought it meant a car accident or an abusive relationship. I didn’t know it happens so often to children. You don’t know it until you want to find out. And once you know it, you don’t forget it. It’s one of those things that you can’t see, undo, or not think about.
William still has a long way to go, but they will forge it together, little by little. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it, she said.
“He’s not the luckiest,” Bramlett said of William. “Children (who are) adopted or placed in foster care are not ‘lucky’ – it is not luck that keeps you away from your birth parents. We were born into this world to be with our biological families. Adoption is as much a loss as it is a gain. I am the happy one.
“You don’t have to adopt your student to make a difference. There are so many resources that people don’t realize exist. … There are so many ways to help. It doesn’t have to be that.
For Bramlett, it’s no different now that it’s official.
But for William, it is.
“You are my mom,” he said.
“Yeah, you’re stuck with me forever,” she replied, laughing.
William chuckled and she pulled him closer to him. It’s their life now.