Surrounded by friends, family and co-workers, Jessica Phoenix, FSS adoptions specialist, finalized her adoption of Zhavon Bailey Aug. 22, 2017.
Adoption was always in the cards for Phoenix, who worked as an investigator for DCF before coming to work for FSS in 2015. The Jacksonville native grew up learning about kids in care. Her mother was also a DCF investigator and worked with Guardian Ad Litem.
“We always had kids over to our house who we considered family,” said Phoenix.
So it was a natural fit for her to join the FSS staff as an adoptions specialist, finding families for children.
Children in FSS care are referred to the Adoptions department when the state terminates their parent’s legal rights. The department looks within the child’s existing network to find them a permanent home – relatives, neighbors and school teachers or coaches are all candidates – before they turn 18.
Phoenix initially met Zhavon (“Zay” for short) through another child who she was trying to place in a home. Both boys were living with the same foster parent at the time, February 2016. Six months later, Phoenix took over the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids grant position within Adoptions, and Zay became one of her cases.
“The grant is so child-focused,” she explained. “You really dig into the child’s network and build a strong relationship with each of them. You meet one-on-one at least once every month.”
She would take him to lunch and a teen adoption support group, and they’d talk and get to know each other better. Phoenix learned that Zay was very hesitant to go through the process. But she explained “without using the dreaded ‘A’ word” the importance of having a permanent family.
You have someone to call when your car breaks down, she told him. You have a place to stay when you come home from college over breaks. Eventually, Zay warmed up to the idea.
“You think you can get me adopted,” he asked her. “If you can find a family for me, that would be great.”
As time went on, Phoenix kept reaching out to people in his network, but it was hard to find a family interested in adopting an almost 18-year-old boy who was already grown up. But she kept meeting with him and cheering him on at his church basketball games, and by early 2017, she began thinking about adopting Zay herself.
Though she was only about 10 years older than he, single, and living in a one-bedroom apartment, Phoenix said she couldn’t bear the thought of him not having a place to call home once he turned 18.
She asked Zay if it was something he would be interested in, and did he want to think about it.
“Why would I have to think about that,” he responded, “Yes!”
With only 100 or so days before Zay’s 18th birthday, Phoenix acted quickly. She said she was extremely grateful to FSS and its community partners for working with her to enroll in an adoption training course, arranging a home study and making plans for Zay to move into her house.
The adoption was finalized only a dozen days before he celebrated his 18th birthday.
Now the new mom-and-son pair is adjusting to post-adoption life, as Phoenix transitions from being, “‘fun Ms. Jessica’ who takes him out to lunch to a mom who’s texting him all the time to make sure he’s safe.”
The two enjoy playing Monopoly and Connect Four, going out for ice cream, and they spend time with Phoenix’s parents, siblings and niece and nephew.
“He has a ginormous family now,” she said. “I didn’t want to take away from the family or support he already had. I just wanted to add to his family tree.”
She said she hopes to be there for him as he makes important life decisions like what he will do after he graduates high school and making sure he’s in positive situations.
“He informed me he wants to get a tattoo,” she said with a laugh. “So I want to be there to help him decide not to get tattoos.”
FSS works with teens every day who are looking for permanent homes. If you want to make a lasting impact on a child in your community, visit the adoptions page of our website to learn what you can do.