‘I was born in foster care,’ says Sharif, ‘then I was placed with a couple different families, before I was adopted the first time.’ ‘I did the typical teenager thing… I broke curfew and stayed out late… She told me we were going to the agency one day, and she left me there and didn’t come back.’ Without warning, Sharif returned to New York City foster care at 12-years old, where he was placed in a Residential Treatment Center. Sharif recalls he was so depressed that at some point he stopped talking altogether.
He spent more than six years in residential and group care and was planning to age out of care to no one. Only when the City had decided to close his group home did the option of a permanent family ever get raised to him and he was already over 18. For Sharif, the impending closing of the group home created instant panic. Most teens in foster care have a goal of Independent Living; but Sharif knew far too many friends who started in this direction and ended up on the street. Otherwise, there was a slim possibility for another foster placement or adoption, but after the first go around who wanted to try that again?
Representatives from Children’s Services came to talk to the young men about the facility closing. That is the first time Sharif met Susan, a senior official overseeing the transition, who would later become his mother. ‘I’ll never forget it,’ recalls Sharif. ‘She sat down with all of us and heard our stories… she couldn’t believe that no one had talked to any of us about adoption… we went around the room and you could see her getting livid. Weeks later, I was forced to go to a meet-n-greet,’ remembers Sharif. ‘Some of us got there early and Susan was there setting up. She needed ice and no one would go with her… so I did.’ The two talked about a lot on that 5-block walk. It turned out they were both avid Michigan football fans and had many other similar interests. They even had the same initials. He asked her point-blank why she wasn’t a foster parent.
After the event, Sharif’s worker asked if he was interested in being placed with a family. ‘Yeah, Susan,’ Sharif said, ‘I want her.’ The worker explained that Susan was not a foster parent and there was a list of certified foster parents they could introduce him to, but Sharif was clear about Susan. Meanwhile, Susan had been a long time advocate of older child adoption. She had also been considering parenthood but hadn’t expected it happen quite so suddenly. However, life sometimes takes amazing and unexpected turns and she very quickly decided that she wanted to become Sharif’s mom. It was only after that decision was made that they realized they even share the same birth date.
Within a short time, Susan was certified as an official placement and just three months shy of his 19th birthday, Sharif moved into his new home. Within a few months, Sharif’s best friend, Everett, was spending more and more time at their home as an escape from an unfortunate foster care placement. It became clear to Susan and Sharif that Everett belonged in the family and soon thereafter, Everett moved in. After a lifetime without a stable home, both Sharif and Everett had finally found theirs. In Sharif’s words, ‘I knew I was home right away. She gave me my own set of keys when I was still just visiting. I couldn’t believe it. I had lived in so many places and even when I was adopted before, no one ever gave me my own keys. I felt like I belonged.” That was over three years ago. Today, Susan could not be prouder of her son. Sharif is at home, attending college and pursuing his dream of performing on Broadway.