This is a story about one couple’s quest to adopt and provide a loving home for two children. Did you know in 2016, there were 437,465 children living in foster care in the United States? Of all those children in the foster care system, 57,208 were adopted. The US Dept. of Health and Human Services has not yet released the numbers for 2017, but the data are just as staggering.
Arden Canecchia grew up in North Jersey and lived in Bergen County. In 2003, he was working for Merrill Lynch and planned an event at the Museum of Modern Art in Queens, New York, featuring the art of Matisse and Picasso. It was there that he met his husband Richard, who was paired with him to work the event. Arden said they chatted during the event but were too busy. He emailed him the next day and yes, they started dating.
They lived in Jersey City at the time and were talking about upgrading their apartment when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast back in 2012. Although they lived on the second floor, Canecchia said their basement flooded and the street looked like “they were living on an island.” After the storm, they decided to move to the suburbs and get a bigger home.
They chose suburban Maplewood, in Essex County to call home. Canecchia says it is a “laid back, diverse community” with a mix of straight and gay residents and a lot of adopted children. When same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015, they were married in New Jersey. It was then that they started talking about having a family, and adopting children.
The first step was calling the local Division of Child Protective Services and filling out an applcation. Canecchia said a caseworker was sent out to their home, because their home had to be licensed. They had to make a lot of modifications, such as changing locks so a child can’t be locked in a room, and turning down the temperature of the water heater to avoid burns. Their home was licensed after the final inspection in April that year.
Canecchia said they attended a class on parenting, where shocking topics were discussed such as not to handcuff your child to a radiator! Sadly, child abuse occurs at an alarming rate. As per the Department of Health and Human Services, there were 683,000 reported victims of child abuse in 2015 and over 3 million investigations.
Waiting for a child was the hardest part. After 4 months, they got frustrated. They would get calls from other counties in New Jersey about available children. The couple had decided they would take a child from the age of 3-12 years old, since infants are the most sought after age. Canecchia said gender didn’t matter. The lack of calls concerned him, and he says it crossed his mind it was because they were gay parents. He had a friend who was a caseworker who assured him a call would come.
Gayadoption.org reports that an estimated 65,000 children are living with same sex parents and gay and lesbian couples are raising 4% of all adopted children in the United States. Meanwhile, studies show there are 2 million members of the LGBT community interested in adoption.
Finally, Arden and Richard received a call that two brothers were living with a foster parent and were 6 and 7 years old. They had an older brother who also needed a home and Arden toyed with the idea of having a third child. The couple went to dinner to meet the boys, Jude and Johnny. When they met them, they knew that they would be their sons.
Canecchia said the boys were not socialized as kids. They never went to birthday parties, and were not used to going out to dinner. Children in foster homes are often shuffled from home to home. They had been with their current foster mom and the couple made several visits to her home before taking the boys for an overnight. Finally, they asked Jude and Johnny if they wanted to move in with them.
Arden Canecchia is a Senior VP at the Bank of America and said his company grants a parental leave of 16 weeks for biological or adoptive parents. He said this time was invaluable for him to be home with the boys. Other corporate giants such as Netflix, Microsoft, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Amazon, Apple and Yahoo also provide generous parental benefits in keeping with the growing diversity of child raising.
Canecchia admits there was “many a sleepless night” at first with Jude and Johnny. They missed their older brother who was now in a different school district. Johnny, who was a year younger than Jude, had a more difficult time adjusting. Johnny tried to escape school, refused to eat with the other children, and wouldn’t sit at his desk at first.
While he was on paternal leave, Canecchia would show up at school so he could spend time with Johnny and be there on recess. If it were a bad day, he would pick him up early.
He said the Maplewood School District provided a huge support in transitioning the boys. With the help of a social worker, Johnny was able to integrate into the school. Canecchia said Johnny is now called the “Mayor” of the school. The couple have since made many friends and socialize regularly with other parents in town who have adopted children.
While Jude and Johnny were settling into their new lives, there was still one thing missing. They weren’t legally adopted yet. So began the long road of going to court. In the State of New Jersey, foster children must live with their prospective parents for 6 months before beginning the adoption process. The couple petitioned the courts to adopt Jude and Johnny as their own. This officially would take away the parental rights of their birth parents. The boys were still visiting their birth parents and this was a very confusing time for them.
Finally, it was official! Jude and Johnny’s birth parents surrendered their rights and they were now the legal children of Arden and Richard.
New Jersey adoption laws also permit single LGBT parents to petition for adoption and same sex partners to adopt their partner’s children. The State of New Jersey Department of Children and Families “will not preclude a person from being an adoptive parent based solely on their culture, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, marital/civil union, or domestic partnership status.” The agency provides assistance in fostering and adopting, and providing resources to new parents. Their goal is to make the child’s transition as smooth as possible.
Canecchia now celebrates National Adoption Day, which falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, making Thanksgiving time even more special. National Adoption Day began in 2000 to celebrate families formed through adoption. Since its beginning, more than 65,000 children had their adoptions finalized that day, with many courts throughout the country working on that Saturday. More than 400 cities including Guam and Puerto Rico now participate.
Canecchia said his sons started calling him and Richard “Dad” after the adoption was official. He said in the beginning it was hard for them, but now they “really mean it.” He said being a parent has changed the way he reacts to things, and changed his outlook on life. Watching out for his sons is number one. He said he loves watching Richard parent because “he is super smart and turns things into a learning experience.”
His advice to anyone interested in adopting is “it is tough, but the most rewarding thing.” And it is “wonderful to see the kids happy.”
He said his hopes for his sons are “that they can do anything they want” and he wants them “to feel they’re not held back.” Judging from their parents’ determination, Jude and Johnny are sure to succeed.