By Marisa Kwiatkowski
The Indianapolis Star
Scarlet couldn’t sleep. At 11 p.m., the 17-year-old vacuumed her bedroom. She carefully picked out her clothes for the next day – a long-sleeved white shirt, black-and-white dress, tights and shiny black boots.
Her wish was finally being granted. After 4,057 days in foster care, Scarlet was going to be adopted.
“This is the opportunity that I have been waiting for so long,’’ she told The Indianapolis Star. “And now it’s just, it’s finally here.’’
The Indiana teen had been in and out of the foster care system since she was a toddler. Her removal from her biological parents’ care became permanent in 2008, when she was 6 years old. Since then, Scarlet has lived in 36 different placements.
The teen watched as other kids in the system were adopted. But no one wanted to keep her. Officials estimated nearly 1,000 other children had been adopted through the Indiana Adoption Program while Scarlet waited.
She feared she would never find a forever family.
A year and a half ago, Scarlet was living in a group home in Indianapolis.
Tia Powell, the Indiana Department of Child Services family case manager handling Scarlet’s case at the time, said people sometimes gave Scarlet false hope. The teen went into their homes believing it would be permanent, that she wouldn’t have to move again. But it didn’t last. And Scarlet suffered one disappointment after another.
Then she met Mike and Patty last year.
The Indiana couple, like many prospective adoptive parents, were looking to adopt a young child. They already had three older children. But then Mike and Patty connected with Scarlet during a meet-and-greet adoption event.
“This is the one,’’ Patty remembers thinking. “Even though she’s not young. Something’s telling me that we need to help this girl. She needs us.’’
Mike and Patty told officials they were interested in adopting Scarlet. When another adoption event came up, the agency they were working with encouraged them to attend.
Scarlet was there.
“Oh my gosh, my two favorite people!’’ the teen said when she saw them.
There were lots of kids around, but Scarlet remained close to Mike and Patty throughout the night.
“When I got back to the group home, I was hoping you guys wanted me,’’ Scarlet told them. “Because I wanted you guys.’’
The feeling was mutual.
“I never had this feeling before – ever,’’ Mike told Patty after that second meeting. “But something about that girl. She has to be ours.’’
Mike and Patty submitted a second request in 2017 to adopt Scarlet.
During the adoption interview, Powell said she realized Scarlet’s personality was similar to those of her prospective parents. The DCS family case manager described the trio as “nerd chic.’’
She is meant for you, Powell told Mike and Patty. And you are meant for her.
Brief visits progressed to daylong excursions to weekend stays. Scarlet moved in with Mike and Patty on Dec. 14, 2017.
“She acts just like my other kids,’’ Patty said. “And she’s not biologically related. She fits right in. It’s like she was meant to be there.’’
At first, it was difficult for Scarlet to believe the situation would last. She’d been hurt so many times before.
“You’re not going to go anywhere,’’ Patty continually reassured Scarlet.
The teen gradually became more comfortable and secure in her parents’ love.
“I finally get to have a family that I can just talk to whenever and people who actually understand me,’’ Scarlet said.
“And we’re a little crazy, too,’’ Patty interjected.
“Yeah,’’ Scarlet replied. “But I’ve also learned the whole crazy thing.’’
Now, Mike said Scarlet is “a typical teenager.’’ She’s always on her cellphone and involved with friends and school.
Powell, Scarlet’s former DCS family case manager, said the entire DCS office in Grant County was rooting for the teen to be adopted.
Powell joined Scarlet’s current family case manager, adoption specialists, former foster parents and new family in the Grant County courtroom Nov. 16 to watch the teen’s adoption be finalized.
Scarlet’s time in foster care surpassed her current family case manager’s time employed by DCS and her juvenile judge’s tenure on the bench.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day for a very long time,’’ said Judge Dana Kenworthy, who met Scarlet when she took the bench 81/2 years ago. “She is extra, extra, extra special to me. And she knows that, right?’’
“Yeah,’’ Scarlet replied.
In less than five minutes, Kenworthy granted an adoption more than a decade in the making.
“You might be too old and cool for this, but if you would like to come up and use my magic gavel to change your name, you’re welcome to,’’ the judge said.
The crowd laughed and clapped as Scarlet plopped into Kenworthy’s black leather chair and banged the gavel.
The teen changed her first and last name as part of the adoption. The Indianapolis Star agreed not to publish Scarlet’s new name or residence because of the trauma she suffered as a child.
Scarlet told her adoptive mother, Patty, that she wanted a new name because the old one had been given to her by her birth parents – whom she doesn’t want to remember.
“Nobody should have to go through what you went through,’’ Patty, choking back tears, told her daughter after the adoption hearing. “I’m sorry.’’
When Scarlet cried after the hearing, her parents were there. Scarlet pressed her tear-streaked face to her mother’s shoulder. Then to her father’s.
That dream Scarlet had of a family – people she could go home to every day, who would be there for birthdays, holidays, when she graduates high school and when she graduates college?
It came true.
Photo: Scarlet with her true parents