ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Legislation that’s only been used a few times in Virginia is to thank for reuniting a mother and daughter who spent years apart.
Seventeen-year-old Ariana Bryant has been in and out of Virginia foster homes for nearly a decade.
“It was really hard on me, because I was really attached to my mom. I was a young child. So I of course I was really upset. I struggled with a lot of anxiety and fear of losing people because I lost her,” explained Ariana.
After getting in some trouble, her mother, Christi Dowdy, signed over her parental rights and Ariana was adopted at 8-years old.
“I didn’t sign over my rights because I didn’t want to be a parent. I wanted to do the best thing for my children because having two jobs and nothing to my name doesn’t quite equal a harmonious environment for children,” said Dowdy.
That adoption didn’t work and Ariana ended up back in foster care at 14.
While Dowdy kept asking to get her kids back, she never got anywhere until she reached out to Kayla Stevers at the Roanoke County Department of Social Services.
“Around last Christmas, [Ariana’s] mom actually reached out to me to see if she can get in contact with her and send Christmas presents,” said Stevers, a senior family services specialist. “It was actually pretty similar to what we would have done in a regular foster care case.”
The mother and daughter mailed each other letters that led to the first time they had seen each other in years.
“We just sat there both of us kind of putting stories together about the missed time and getting to explain what was going on and what processes I had gone through and it was just kind of like putting our lives together, catching up and we never missed a beat,” said Dowdy.
“You could see the puzzle pieces falling into place for her. She was able to ask questions that she had probably had for years. Answered. Just light bulbs like clicking left and right. It was really nice to see lots of tears,” said Stevers.
Eventually, Ariana was allowed to move in with her mom.
“That day was just exhilarating. I was so excited. I remember when I first walked in here, I just was overwhelmed with happiness. I didn’t know what to say in the day, it was so, it was just crazy. And it was like I was really, really happy. And in the end, it was all worth it,” said Ariana.
“It’s something I’ve waited for for so long. It really just felt like it healed a lot of things that maybe both of us had gone through,” said Dowdy.
Six months after they were living together, Dowdy got her parental rights back.
“I waited a long time. It’s just been emotional for both of us. It felt great,” said Dowdy. “We’re making up for lost time.”
We’re told there are only a few successful cases of this in Virginia and the only one in this region.
The 2013 law lays out certain requirements including:
- The child must be at least 14 years old
- Free to adopt
- The adult has to have reduced their own safety risks
Also, in conjunction with this legislation, parents can’t file for restoration. Only the Department of Social Services or the Guardian Ad Litem can.
Stevers said this was highly unusual and doesn’t expect every case to end this way.
“Ms. Dowdy, She’s made excellent strides. She’s been substance-free for years. Anything that was asked of her she’s done,” explained Stevers.
“A child and parent bond is something that’s special and it’s really hard to replace that,” said Dowdy.
“It actually feels amazing to know that somebody cares about me the way they do. The love a mother has for her daughter just unbeatable,” said Ariana.
“Some kids who are still seeking a permanent family after many years in the foster system may actually end up right where they started from; but in a safer, more stable and better-prepared family than when they left so long ago,” said Ben Jones, Roanoke County Supervisor, Foster Care, Adoptions & Resources.