The phone call came about two years ago, when Yves Hughes was shopping in a Plano home improvement store. Child Protective Services had removed several siblings from a neglectful home. They were waiting in a caseworker’s office for placement with a foster family.
“Are you ready?” the caller said. “We have four.”
Yves called his wife, Khalila. The Hughes couple had just finished training to learn how to foster children. They hadn’t expected to step up so soon — and for so many children at once.
In two hours, three of the children showed up at their front door, carrying bags that held everything they owned. The fourth one joined the siblings months later. Scared and nervous, they were needing the love and care of a family.
Last week, the Hughes solidified that love when they adopted all four children: Nyla, 15; Marcus, 14; Aaliyah, 8; and Zayden, 6.
“The only way to change the world is to believe you can and do it,” Yves says. “We felt called to make a difference.”
How does an adoption happen in the middle of a pandemic? Like everything else — through Zoom, of course.
While Judge Cyndi Wheless presided from a Collin County courtroom, the Hughes grew to a family of six in their living room in Plano. Members of their extended families from across the country became a gallery of Zoom participants to watch the proceedings and celebrate with them.
"Congratulations, forever Mom and Dad," the judge said, smiling into the camera.
The Hughes children broke out into song, singing along to "All I Want for Christmas is You.” Indeed, it’s the best Christmas present of all.
“The kids aren’t the only ones benefiting; the parents are too,” Khalila says. “Our lives are so very full of love.”
Even before Yves and Khalila married, whenever the topic of children came up, they talked about adoption. Yves’s parents had adopted his sister, and she thrived in their loving environment. But life was busy. Originally from Chicago, they moved around as they built their careers in the technology field.
After moving to Plano, Yves attended a gala where he heard a speech by Steve Pemberton, author of “A Chance in the World,” which describes his experiences in and out of foster homes since he was 3. In his book, Pemberton told how the teacher who eventually took him in for 11 years taught him valuable lessons that helped lead him to jobs as chief diversity officer with Monster.com, Walgreens and eventually chief human resources officer with Globoforce, now known as Workhuman, a company that designs software to recognize and reward employees. His presentation inspired Yves and brought him to tears.
“What struck me was how one person changed the trajectory of a child’s life,” Yves says. “I went home, and Khalila and I started making plans. We wanted... we needed to do something to help a child in need.”
They signed up to become foster parents. Six months later, they completed the steps of becoming foster parents. It was only a six-week course. They had taken their time to complete it because they wanted to make sure they were ready.
The demand for foster families is great. An estimated 30,000 children in Texas, nearly half a million across the United States, live in foster homes. The need for foster and adoptive parents like the Hughes has only grown during the pandemic, when unemployment and business shutdowns have put economic strains on families, making it hard to recruit foster parents, especially older children.
Even more troubling are the high numbers of abused and neglected children reported being forced to sleep in CPS offices across the state because they have no place to go.
“It’s so important that families like the Hughes step up to adopt and we are so very excited they did,” Bollinger says. “Of course we miss the hugs and the face-to-face presence. But virtually more people were able to interact and be together. The important thing is they are a family now.”
The Hughes got the call about the four siblings the same day they received their foster family license in the mail. “We had no idea what to expect, but we knew thousands of children, especially in Texas, are waiting to be adopted,” Yves says. "We wanted to help.”
With a disproportionate number of children of color in foster care, the need is especially high for foster parents like the Hughes, who are Black, Bollinger says.
It is also rare for siblings to be placed with one family.
Helping Each Other Learn
Of course, no one knew what school and home were going to look like during the pandemic, which started shutting down schools and workplaces in March, more than a year after the children began settling into their routines at the Hughes home.
Yves and Khalila, both 39, shifted their work to home temporarily during the pandemic. Yves credits his company, Sales Force, for the support it has given him as he began fostering and then adopting. He was also able to adjust his hours during the pandemic to support his children’s education at home. Mr. Yves and Mrs. K, as they are known to the older children, set up a makeshift classroom for the children in the garage, complete with a whiteboard and desks.
It also helped that both parents are technology professionals and could help their children navigate the internet.
Then there’s the softer side to learning. Yves recalls one time when little Zayden crawled up in his lap during an online business meeting and fell asleep.
For now, staying at home has brought the couple who used to travel a lot closer together. At supper together each night, they now talk about the places they want to go someday.
Fostering and adopting can be hard as children often struggle with the damage caused by past trauma. Not everyone can handle it.
Yves and Khalila are learning. Being a part of the changes being made can be rewarding.
“Our priorities have changed somewhat,” Khalila said of their new parenting role. “We have learned a lot and we are still growing. It makes us stronger. It’s very rewarding to see their progress.”
As professionals in technology, the couple admit they are not fond of all the paperwork, which includes weekly reports about their experiences. They recall some frustrations during the complex training and application process that they would like to change for fear some prospective parents may give up too soon.
To make the experience easier, the new parents are tapping into their professions. Yves, a product manager in software development for Sales Force, is working with Khalila, a user experience designer at AT&T, to start their own technology support system to help guide other families through the processes of fostering and adoption.
They started a new website and also plan to launch a blog and possibly a podcast to connect other adoptive families.
“Fostering and adopting is something others should definitely consider,” Yves says. “It makes a difference in another life. It made a difference in ours.”