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A Los Alamos scientist met a 6-year-old foster child at an adoption event last August.
By the time the day’s activities were over, Sebastien Darteville, who set out that morning without the slightest thought of becoming an adoptive parent, had been captivated by the charm of an inquisitive youngster.
The Adoption Express event that day in Santa Fe involved some games with a number of children and a train ride to the junction in Lamy.
There was something about the way the boy stopped him boldly on the train as he was walking through his car and wanted him to sit down, something about how curious he was about this man who talked so funny with a Belgian accent.
“I met that kid or the kid met me,” Darteville recalled a year later, now a proud adoptive father with a son in his life. “I totally, totally clicked with him.”
But then it was not an easy matter getting from there to here. Darteville’s first anxious inquiries to the Children, Youth and Family Department (CYFD) adoption center in Espaola were discouraging.
“You’re not going to have him,” he was told up front and the warning was repeated each time he called: “He’s already matched.”
Carlos’ adoption by another family was well under way and the selection process had passed one of the first important hurdles.
Still, Darteville decided “just in case” to go through with the other prerequisites he needed to become eligible to make an adoption – including a background check, some classes and the paperwork.
He knew Carlos had special needs and would demand a lot of attention and a high-level of care.
“Maybe, the family would change their minds,” Darteville thought. “Sometimes it happens,” he was told.
And so, after an agonizing wait with minimal prospects, he learned that the other family had dropped out in November 2007.
Having obtained his foster parent’s license for just that purpose, Darteville was available and after a formal Best Interest Placement meeting he was cleared as the new match, a selection that was confirmed in January with another formal process known as a full disclosure meeting.
Although he was somewhat aware that he was taking on a handful, he said he was “dumbfunded” to learn how serious Carlos’ emotional problems and behaviors turned out to be. He was afraid that it would be too difficult.
He admits that his decision was not altogether rational, but he decided to go through with it.
In February, after a great deal of additional planning and preparation, he took Carlos into his home in Los Alamos for the 6-month trial period.
As a single parent Darteville knew that he would have to be available when Carlos was not in school, so he decided he would change to part-time status at work.
He made advance arrangements with the staff at Aspen School, where Carlos was enrolled and alerted them to the special case.
Darteville had some advantages in his own experience, including a master’s degree in child development, along with a PhD in geology, and a period when he was a caregiver in a regional center for foster children.
For four years locally he has been involved with the Court Appointed Special Advocate program for children, representing the interests of seven foster children in Rio Arriba, all of whom were successfully adopted into families.
He became President of the Board of Directors of CASA in the First Judicial District under Judge Barbara Vigil. His volunteer work with CASA brought him to the event where he met Carlos.
It has been a challenge, he admits, overcoming a reactive, defensive instinct, for example by which Carlos tested him, acting out at school or at home, purposely misbehaving, as if to see if Darteville would still want him, despite all the things he did.
“He has settled, totally,” said Darteville with a smile and a sigh of relief. “Everything seems to have settled very nicely.”
On Aug. 25, the adoption became official and the new family celebrated a few weeks later at a gallery in Santa Fe, with CYFD workers, CASA volunteers, Carlos’ previous foster families and social workers and First Lady Barbara Richardson.
The lesson, he feels is that adoptive families can beat the odds; even hard-to-place foster children can find a place.
“It is possible,” said Darteville. “It takes a long time and patience.”