MORGANTOWN - In early October, 15-year-old, Davion Only took the pulpit at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church and pleaded to be adopted.
In the weeks after, hundreds of families reached out hoping to welcome Only into their home.
Only's story went viral, spreading on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. He participated in numerous interviews, invited news organizations into his bedroom at a care center he shares with 11 other boys and even helped add content to his personal website.
Photo by Tiet Tran
Stephanie Strickland plays with her adopted son, Scotty, at their home in Fairmont. The Stricklands have three children, all through adoption.
Only's story did much more than just help him though, he helped bring attention to adoption issues and concerns within the United States.
West Virginia, a state with a population of less than two million, has 4,027 children under state care. Of these, close to 1,000 are available for adoption, according to the North American Council on Adoptable Children.
While many families may be interested in adopting, roadblocks must be overcome.
The application process to become adoptive parents through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources can take up to nine months to complete. Prospective families must have sufficient income to meet the immediate and future needs of a child, and their house must pass a health/fire/safety inspection.
In addition to these physical needs, all members of the household 18 and older must undergo a criminal investigation and background check, as well as meetings with social workers to demonstrate their ability to commit and provide for a child.
When an individual or family does complete the application, they then begin a wait for a match that may take months.
According to the state, an obstacle preventing matches between children and families is that many prospective adoptive parents are waiting for children who are not likely to be available.
For example, many parents are waiting to adopt infants. Many of the children who are available for adoption are 6-to 18-years old, are brothers and sisters who need to stay together, are troubled by emotional and behavioral difficulties or from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Children in West Virginia also may be adopted through private agencies such as the Children's Home Society of West Virginia. The society also requires an in-depth home and household member inspection. Additionally, prospective parents must take PRIDE, a nine-week covering topics such as child attachment, loss and grief, discipline and behavior intervention, effects of abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, working with the child welfare system, and the effects of fostering and adopting on the family.
Nick and Stephanie Strickland adopted all three of their children through the society.
Miriam, 3, was adopted as an infant. William, 2, and Scotty, 3, who are biological brothers, were fostered by the Stricklands before being officially adopted.
The Stricklands struggled with infertility issues and knew adoption would be the only way to build their family. Their application and selection process took nine months to complete.
"Adoption means everything to us. It's the only reason we're able to have our family, and it just all felt so natural," Stephanie said.
"Even though having three toddlers can be stressful and hectic, it's even more rewarding."
Stephanie's love for adoption has recently led her to take classes in social work and change her career path to allow her to work with adoption programs.
A variety of resources are available for families who are interested in adopting. Mission West Virginia is a non-profit organization helping families decide if adoption is right for them and navigating them through the intricacies of the application process.
"It's true that prospective parents have to go through a sometimes lengthy process to register to adopt, but there are resources to help them though it, and when broken down, the tasks really aren't as daunting. For instance, many parents worry about the cost of adopting. Generally, costs come from small things like pets needing up-to-date shots, or a back porch needing a railing added," said Carol Phipps from Mission West Virginia.
National Adoption Month was in November. Adoption agencies hope to remind people that families are needed all year round.
"There are so many loving and caring kids that just need that in return from a family. We're hopeful here at Mission West Virginia that we can ease people's apprehension about applications and raising an adopted child," Phipps said.
For more information on child adoption in West Virginia, contact the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources or visit AdoptUSkids.org for frequently asked questions, application guidance and agency contact information.