Creating a Forever Family with Older Children: ‘I Was Completely, Utterly Wrong About Teens’
30th of March 2022
Thomas and Nichole Wilken tried everything in their pursuit to have children, but it wasn’t until Nichole suffered a blood clot during an in vitro procedure and subsequent stroke, that the couple explored adoption.
A friend referred them to Trinity Youth Services in 2019 and decided to foster after learning that there are thousands of children locally who need a loving home. After a 5-6 month process of getting approved, the family started fostering babies, hoping to end up with one who would become available for adoption. Then one day out of the blue, Foster Care Director, Laura Kassem, called about a six-year-old little girl, Dakota, who needed a forever family. “She’s adorable,” she said.
Thomas and Nichole were only expecting to take in babies and toddlers, but talked and prayed about it. “We decided to meet her and she is cute as a button. We fell in love with her,” Nichole said. They were told she had other siblings and that a teenage sister, Carmen, was in another home at Trinity Youth Services.
“When I heard Dakota was chosen to be in a family, I was hurt and saw a family cared about her,” Carmen said. “I wanted to find a family that cared for me like they cared for her.” So, Trinity staff asked if Thomas and Nichole would consider adopting Carmen as well.
“We were in shock,” Nichole said. “We didn’t want to take on a teen.” Thomas and Nichole invited her to Dakota’s birthday party and were hesitant. Carmen was very quiet and they weren’t sure what to make of her but came to the conclusion, “Who are we to say these siblings can’t be together?”
After careful consideration, the family welcomed Carmen with open arms and bought new furniture for the girls’ bedroom. “It worked out beautifully,” Nichole said. “We have had no problems with Carmen like I had envisioned having a teenager. I was so happy I was completely, utterly wrong about teens.”
After a little bit of time, the family moved from Riverside, CA to Loma Linda so that Carmen could have her own room. “We’re happy to be able to keep them together and it’s great to be able to dote on them,” Nichole said. Prior to the birthday party Thomas and Nichole held for Dakota, she had never had a birthday party before.
“Carmen has like 50 Bath and Body Works perfumes,” Nichole exaggerated. Carmen explained that for most of her life, she didn’t have very good access to toiletries and because of that, she wants to make sure she smells nice. “I was quiet and awkward at first, but I’m much better now,” Carmen said. To which her mom said, “She’s a normal kid.”
Once the family got the wheels in motion to adopt the siblings, their biological mother tried to appeal the decision, which delayed things by about eight months. “My ‘mom’ (though I don’t like to call her that, because she’s not my mom), just tried to make it harder on us,” Carmen explained.
Recently finalizing the adoption, the sisters (now 9 and 17) got to choose new middle names and received new last names. “We are looking forward to traveling as a family now that we have our forever family,” Nichole said. “We’re really big on creating memories.” The family recently went to the zoo and have a trip planed for Idaho to visit family, as well as an Alaskan cruise. “We do a lot of things as a family and the girls are thankful.”
Additionally, Nichole and Thomas’ parents have embraced the girls into the family. “We didn’t know what their response would be. We hoped they would love them the same as their other grandchildren and they do. We have a wonderful support system with our family, Nichole said. “It all worked out.”
Through the pandemic, Nichole went from being a nurse in the ICU, to a nurse in organ transplants. Working with COVID patients in the hospital, “I was working a lot of hours and seeing a lot of people ‘bagged up,'” she said. Nichole now has more time and emotional energy for her family.
Thomas is a proud stay-at-home dad and Nichole and the girls are very grateful to him for his presence. Carmen is taking cooking classes and learning from her new dad, who was previously a cook at a restaurant.
“I’m expanding my pallet,” Carmen said. “I had never had fish before.”
Thomas and Nichole’s advice to those thinking about fostering or adopting is to “Make sure you’re prepared. Be ready for anything. It takes a village and you’re going to need to be a powerful advocate for the children placed with you. As Resource Parents, it’s our job to be their voice,” Nichole said.
“These children are not a paycheck, they are your children,” Thomas said. “This whole experience has ups and downs. It takes a special heart.” Nichole added, “We need more of ‘the good ones’ to step up for these children.”
According to Thomas, “If we had the space, we would have 10 kids!” He and Nichole hope to add one or two more children to their family in a variety of ages and feel that awareness for children in foster care is incredibly important.
Jenelle Phillips, Director of Development
Jenelle’s role is to access and identify resources for youth in our care. She is also responsible for maintaining a distinctive look and voice for Trinity through our online presence, media and community outreach. Before joining the Trinity team in 2016, Jenelle worked in publishing for nearly a decade as a graphic designer, photographer, writer and editor. Jenelle earned a bachelor’s degree in communications at California State University Fullerton and has won several awards throughout her career including a few from the National Newspaper Association. Jenelle is also very involved in her community and is active in her church.