Jessica Benzakein knows the difficulties children in the foster care system face firsthand. At the age of 12, her mother lost custody of her and she ended up in foster care. She spent six years being passed from family to family until she aged out of the system and attended college.
In a new interview with People, the 46-year-old single mom from Milwaukee, Wisconsin described the events leading up to her going into foster care. She endured physical and sexual abuse throughout her childhood and as a result, she was placed in care.
Because she never had a traditional, loving household, she felt she ‘didn’t need’ a family.
During college, Benzakein’s feelings about family and having a “home base” started to shift. While she completed her studies, she would often feel alone which made her realize that starting a family of her own would remedy her loneliness.
“I started thinking, maybe having a home base, someplace that you can go home to where they’re okay with having you, that’s a good idea,” she told People. “So that was the first time. And then throughout my twenties, I tried to build a family.”
Ten years later, two kids, and six adoptions later, Benzakein still thinks about the foster care system.
A decade after Benzakein welcomed her two children, Eli, now 14, and Brenna, 10, whom she shares with her ex, she never forgot about her experience in foster care. She thinks of the many kids who still have no permanent, stable place to call home.
Her experience motivated her to foster six boys: Kendrick, now 6, and T.J., 4, followed by siblings Will, 18, Carter, 14, and Sidney, 13, by the fall. A year later, Buddy, 8, joined their happy bunch.
After fostering her boys, she knew what the next step needed to be.
On January 3 of this year, she and the boys along with her two foster children took a trip to a Wisconsin courthouse where she finalized papers adopting the foster children and officially becoming a family.
“We very much believed that no one could tell us we weren’t a family,” Benzakein told People about the special day. “We know who our family is. But what I liked about most about [the adoption day] was — now it was official. I had birth certificates, I had the forms, and I had the documents.”
‘Now that I have this adoption form, you cannot tell me we are not family.’
“Now that I have this adoption form, you cannot tell me we are not family,” she added. “Because we really are.”
Yes, they are!
According to Adoption Network, 428,000 children are in foster care in the United States. Only 135,000 children are adopted in the US each year. For those not fortunate enough to be adopted, 43,000 kids, spend five years or more waiting for an adoptive family to come along.
Benzakein’s decision to adopt black children becomes even more important when you look at these adoption statistics. Of the 428,000 children in foster care, black children are disproportionately represented.
Benzakein knows that she’s made an impact on these children’s lives and she’s open to doing it again.
“I still feel like there might be one or two more kids out there destined to be here, too,” she said. “I just haven’t met them yet. But I feel like this is my purpose. I know this is my purpose.”
Benzakein’s past should have left her jaded by a system that never fully made room for her. Instead, she’s opening up her home and her heart to children that need a safe place to call home, the same sort of place she longed for throughout her childhood and into her college years. We’re so proud of this mom and all the good she’s done for her kids.
Andrew is a Chicago-based writer who enjoys finding the best of the internet, obsessively making lists, and cooking for friends. After studying Film and Art History, he developed a deep love for both topics. Celebrity news, pop culture, and stories that bring people together are his passions.
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