Thursday, May 24, 2018
News Roundup

Davion Only still not adopted despite worldwide attention (w/video)

He stood at the pulpit that Sunday in September, sweating in a donated suit, clutching a Bible he had borrowed from his boys home.

"My name is Davion," he said softly. "And I've been in foster care since I was born."

Davion Navar Henry Only, 15, told the church full of strangers he never knew his real family. "But I know God hasn't given up on me," he said softly. "I just hope he finds me a home — and a family."

The Tampa Bay Times story was picked up by news outlets across the world. Davion's plea to be adopted was featured on Good Morning America and Al Jazeera America and in People. Producers flew him to New York to talk to Barbara Walters on The View.

And 10,000 people from across the globe called to ask about helping or adopting him.

The foster agency, Eckerd, had to bring in 60 volunteers to man a phone bank. "The number of inquiries has increased almost three-fold," said Eckerd spokesperson Terri Durdaller. "Davion is a hero."

Davion's plea helped other foster kids around the state. One official called it "the Davion effect."

But six months after he stood up in that church, Davion still hasn't been adopted.

"Something doesn't seem right. I pray about it," said his mentor, Richard Prince, 22. "He's changed schools and foster homes, and he's not allowed to tell me certain things. People want to hear a happy ending, but it's not too clear what's going on."

• • •

Davion is tall and broad, with stooped shoulders and a shy smile. He likes all-you-can-eat pancakes and Madden football and wants to be a police officer or play in the NFL.

He doesn't know much about his dad. His mother stole stuff, did cocaine and got caught. He was born while she was in jail. He can't count all the places he has lived, or name the foster parents he was supposed to call "Mom."

In June, he searched his mother's name at a library computer and learned she had just died. Now she would never come get him.

So he decided to find a family himself.

He lost 40 pounds over the summer. When school started, he buckled down and, for the first time, got almost all A's. He began minding his manners, controlling his anger, hoping someone would notice — and want him.

"I'll take anyone," he said. "Old or young, mom or dad, black, white, purple. I don't care."

Connie Going, the Eckerd adoptions specialist who took Davion to church, called him "a forgotten child." He languished in that first foster home for seven years before anyone even put him into the Heart Gallery, which markets children who are eligible to be adopted. For the next eight years he bounced between treatment centers and group homes.

Then, two weeks before Christmas, the MailOnline in London, posted a story headlined: Orphan's Wish For a Family Finally Comes True. The article quoted Durdaller: "He has moved from his group home placement at Carlton Manor to a foster home where he is enjoying getting to know the family. Davion is excited to be spending the holidays with a perspective adoptive family."

The apparent good news spread around the world. Davion Only Finds Possible 'Forever Family' Just In Time For Christmas, wrote the Huffington Post website.

But the story wasn't accurate. The foster family never intended to adopt him.

"He just went to live in a foster home instead of the group home," Going said. "They put him in a home where they knew he wasn't going to be adopted."

In January, after repeated requests from the Times to clarify Davion's status, Durdaller said some media had misunderstood.

"The foster and adoptive parents are two separate systems," she emailed on Jan. 9. "He is in a foster home, things are more stable there. Sometimes a foster parent will adopt. But he is meeting with different perspective adoptive families. We have 15 years of his life to catch a family up on. That takes time."

• • •

Some adoptions experts said they aren't surprised that Davion still hasn't been adopted.

"It isn't easy," said Bob Rooks, who directs Explore Adoption, Florida's adoption referral center in Jacksonville. "Of all those 10,000 calls, probably only a small percentage already were qualified to adopt. And at his age, he has his own opinions. Maybe his needs were different from what those families wanted."

Back in October, Rooks said, he would have predicted that the process could take months. "I don't know if I would have said six months, though," he said. "That seems a little long."

Other children's advocates are appalled that, with all the interest directed at Davion, things are taking so long.

"That's ridiculous," said Dr. Gregory Keck, a psychologist who has spent 25 years working with foster and adopted children at the Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio.

"All those people who called already knew he was older, so that wouldn't have been an issue.

"The poor kid has got to be wondering, 'Why, out of all those people, does no one want me?' "

According to Florida's Department of Children and Families, adopting a child from foster care should take between nine months and a year.

"I know Eckerd is committed to finding Davion the forever family that is perfect for him," said interim Secretary Esther Jacobo, who wrote the op-ed piece about "the Davion effect" last year. "The relationship cannot be forced or rushed."

Durdaller said of the 10,000 calls that came in, 2,500 were returned. Many of the calls, she said, "were routed into the call center and did not require a call back."

• • •

More than 300 people who wanted to adopt Davion contacted the Times last fall saying they couldn't get in touch with anyone at Eckerd, the voicemail box was full, or no one was returning their messages.

Last week, the Times contacted a sample of 40 of those potential parents. Of the 10 who responded, nine said they had not heard from Eckerd. All were shocked and angry that Davion still doesn't have a home.

"We never received a response. This just breaks my heart," wrote Marcy Theobald of Georgia. "What is wrong with the system?! Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and loved."

"No one has contacted me regarding Davion," Shelly Bergman wrote from Ohio. "I just don't understand it, and I sure hope he does not lose his faith because of that. This sweet young man just wants to be loved by someone. Bring him here, I will welcome him with open arms."

Sharron Furno and her family emailed Eckerd from Michigan. Their house is a licensed foster home and Furno and her husband have adopted four other children. She was the only one who said she had heard from Eckerd.

"I received an email stating that they were only considering families in the state," Furno wrote. "We offered to pay for his transportation. I offered to go to Florida and spend time with him. Why leave him there when they haven't been able to give him permanency in YEARS?"

Eckerd started its search by responding to "families that may already have a connection with the child, relative, mentor, teacher, etc," wrote Durdaller. "If no connection exists, we then begin exploring the list of families that have expressed an interest in the child."

Florida families get priority, she said, because they "maintain the child in the same geographical area so that community and school connections can be preserved."

In November, Davion said he hoped that a second cousin who works for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department might adopt him. The deputy, in his early 30s and single, never knew about Davion until he saw the Times story. He spent time with Davion, but by Christmas decided that Davion needed two parents.

So Eckerd started trying to match Davion with the strangers who had reached out. "All qualified families that have expressed an interest in adopting Davion have been explored," Durdaller wrote in February. "There are several families in the pipeline to be considered for adoption of Davion."

• • •

A couple of weeks ago, Davion called Going and said, "I had a blowout."

Going is no longer his adoptions specialist. Eckerd fired her in January, after she had worked with foster kids for almost 30 years. She said she had ruffled too many feathers, trying to fight for her kids. Eckerd refused to comment, citing privacy concerns.

But Going wasn't going to let Davion go. She had been in his life longer than anyone else, since he was 7. She had adopted one of his best friends. So with the foster mom's permission, and in an effort to keep him in touch with his friend, she invited him over to her house for dinner and to watch football. Whenever you're upset, she told him, call me.

"All the change, he was overwhelmed. He told me he'd blown it," said Going, who now works for the Heart Gallery. So Eckerd moved him again. "Into a therapeutic foster home."

In the last six months, since asking for help from God and strangers, Davion has gotten to see the Bucs and the Lightning, even the Jets. Someone gave him a watch. Lots of folks sent gift cards and checks totaling more than $5,500.

But he has lost everything that was familiar — his friends and counselors from the group home; his school; his adoptions specialist.

"I have to believe everything is going to be okay in the long run," said Going. "I think he just wants it all to be over."

Durdaller wouldn't comment on where Davion has lived, what schools he has been transferred to, or how many families had home studies done on his behalf.

And after having Davion take news crews through his group home, making him a Web page on Eckerd's site, and allowing him to appear on national talk shows, she said the boy who has become the face of teenage adoption is no longer allowed to talk to the media.

Davion doesn't have a cellphone or email. His Facebook settings are private. He just turned 16.

So far, Durdaller said, Davion has met with four families. "It was decided that one family has the skills needed to care for him," she wrote.

She won't reveal where the family lives, or anything about them.

But a couple of weeks ago Going was with her son at Astro Skate in Pinellas Park when she heard a familiar voice, "Miss Connie!"

"He waved me over. He was with a couple who want him, who already have kids," Going said. "They're in their 40s or 50s, I'd guess, and live in Ohio. That was their first visit."

Later, Davion told Going he likes them.

Durdaller wouldn't confirm anything — except that Davion is going to spend time with a family next week, for spring break. It will be his first overnight visit in a house where people might really want him to stay.

Lane DeGregory can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8825.

     
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