Dawn Wallschlaeger and her wife, Stacy, have been together for 12 years, and have been licensed to foster and adopt for the last five. Dawn is the Director of Behavioral Health Services for Eastern Arizona with Arizona’s Children Association (AzCA). She has also been a therapeutic foster parent for 23 years!
The two have experience in social work with over 60 years combined! Stacy is a Licensed Master of Social Work and is skilled in working with children, youth, and families. She is a fierce advocate for LGBTQ children who are in custody with the Department of Child Safety (DCS), and for LGBTQ parents and co-parents. Dawn is a Licensed Master of Social Work with experience in behavioral health and child welfare services. Together, they have three adopted children and two biological children from a previous relationship.
“There are days where we are like, ‘what are we doing?’ Stacy’s career niche is helping foster and adopted kids navigate the education system. Which is good because we are both social workers, but we have different positions,” said Dawn about both of them working in the same field.
Dawn and Stacy have fostered and adopted many children, with their most recent, a transgender youth who recently graduated from high school. They came into DCS custody at 10 years old and were in foster care for about six years having experienced 19 different placements, including group homes, foster homes, and relatives.
“It was a connection right away,” said Dawn about their first visit. “We had a couple of visitations and sat at a Starbuck for 3 hours chatting… They didn’t stop talking the entire time. It was excitement, anxiety, and hope. It was love at first sight situation, and we’ve had to slow it down a little bit.”
Dawn and Stacy adopted them when they were 16 and took them into their home. They talked about having to be a chameleon to fit into homes and fit in with their peers so when they entered Dawn and Stacy’s home, they were really able to start their journey of finding their identity.
When any foster or adopted youth has entered Dawn and Stacy’s home, the two of them knew they needed to change their understanding of what to expect. They knew they would provide love and be caring to the children, but also understood that these kids didn’t sign up to love strangers in a new foster home. So, they gave them time and space and allowed each of them to create an environment to make them the most comfortable.
“They have to guide. But it takes a lot of conversation, a lot of chatting, and a lot of planting seeds. Setting boundaries for them, and us,” explained Dawn.
Dawn and Stacy created a safe relationship for their most recent adoption to get in contact with their biological mom. Like in many cases, there were ups and downs with meeting their biological mom, but it was important for them to go through. There were disagreements and some long nights of worrying. What it took for Dawn and Stacy was back-and-forth communication with their bio-mom on what she needed, and if was okay at that moment for a visit. There were phone calls and invitations for birthdays, graduations, holidays, and whatever other milestone or achievement that needed to be celebrated.
Now, as an adult, they have returned home to live with their bio-mom, where they have been for about a month. As Dawn explained it, it was something they needed to experience for themselves. Dawn and Stacy still love them and will always be on their side.
“Friends and family, we call it our ‘tribe’- it’s part of our family culture,” said Dawn. “We take care of each other. It is woven into raising our biological children, and our adopted children.”
Dawn and Stacy have used family to help stabilize and combine both their adopted and biological children. Whether that is foster, adopted, or biological, they are all cared for to benefit the strengths and needs of each one individually. Not all children are the same, and if one of the kids isn’t comfortable calling them “Mom” or expressing their love, then that’s okay. As Dawn put it, her oldest son was adopted when Dawn was nine months pregnant, and he didn’t call her “Mom” until he was in his mid-20s.
Dawn and Stacy, for the first time in a while, are going to have an empty house this fall now that their children are grown. The home where they raised their children is now their “empty nest,” currently being occupied by a couple of dogs and a tortoise while they wait for their next placement!
“We didn’t get into this to adopt. Our goal is to help the LGTBQ+ children in adoption and advocate for them.”