A Florida teen at risk of aging out of the foster system has been adopted by his forever family in the nick of time, just hours away from his 18th birthday.
Adoptive parents Brad and Renee Balassaitis of Jacksonville, Florida, both 47, officially adopted Roman Nehemiah at Clay County Historic Courthouse on Oct. 17, making Roman the seventh child the Balassaitises have adopted out of foster care to join their two biological children.
“It was our prayer that he would be adopted by 18, and God made it happen,” Mrs. Balassaitis told The Epoch Times. “We just knew he was our son, and we just needed to get a fancy piece of paper saying so, so that we can make it official. You know, when the Lord says do something, you do it, so we just kept pressing on.”
Roman added: “I was very happy and cried like a baby.”
The Balassaitises had “known for a long time” that they wanted to bring Roman into the family.
Roman first came to stay with the Balassaitises as a foster placement when he was 12 years old, having been removed from his biological parents’ home with his siblings a year prior. “It wasn’t a safe environment,” Mr. Balassaitis said.
Finally, years later, with clearance from Roman’s caseworkers, the couple told the teen they were starting his adoption process on Christmas morning 2022.
“It was kind of part of a special gift, the last thing to be opened,” Mr. Balassaitis said. “We were sad when he left the first time. ... we talked to the other kids that are still living at the house, and their reaction was all, immediately, ‘He’s already our brother, so why wouldn’t we?’”
Roman bounced around several different foster placements before ending up in a group home not far from his future adoptive family’s home. “Some were nice and some were not,” Roman said of his foster placements. “I got into fights, got beat up by some people.”
The Balassaitises, who regularly hosted kids from their local group home, hosted Roman for around 10 months. The teen turned 13 under their care.
“I connected really well with him, really quickly,” Mrs. Balassaitis said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m just going to let him stay in the house and do whatever he wants,’ so for a whole month he had no chores, he had no jobs, he had nothing. We were going to homeschool him, so I let him just decompress.
“All I did was buy lots of duct tape, all the different colors, and lots of spray paints, and Grampy brought over all kinds of little motors and batteries and wires and tools and just let him tinker,” she said. “I think by honoring him and letting him do that, I think, without him realizing it, his heart realized he was safe with us.”
But Roman “wasn’t ready” to be part of a new family just yet. He moved out and didn’t reconnect with the Balassaitises until he was 16, after a profound moment at a Christian camp.
“I met a [camp leader], Jason,” Roman said. “I told him I was in foster care, and he said, ‘Oh, as a teenager, you can get adopted, some people want teens’ ... that same night, he said, ’Pray [for] what you need,' and I did. ... two weeks later, I was in this home.”
Being away from the Balassaitis family for years, Roman, then 16, had gone “back to that state of being on the defense,” so the couple allowed him to “decompress, rest, and relax” like before. And Roman has been with the family since then.
As Roman’s 18th birthday approached, and his adoption was not yet finalized, it briefly seemed that all hope was lost, and he would age out of the system, making adoption impossible. But the Balassaitises rallied a team of caseworkers who pulled out all the stops, giving the family their wish in the nick of time.
“It was exciting, but essentially it was a relief because it had been building up for so long,” Mr. Balassaitis said. “You don’t have to worry about any of that legal stuff anymore. It’s done, you know? He is our son.”
Mrs. Balassaitis said: “I’ve always wanted to adopt children. We’re adopted into the family of God. We have children who are adopted. Adoption is the norm, you know? It’s God’s plan.”
Roman, who loves the outdoors, working on his truck, and “fixing stuff,” is gifted at working with his hands and interested in a future in the trades. Other teens like Roman deserve the love, safety, and stability to nurture their dreams, said his parents.
“Most families that go into foster care are looking for babies or kids. ... But we’ve seen teenagers on the other end of it, they age out of the system and don’t have support. That’s hard,” Mr. Balassaitis said. “We grew up in stable homes, and it would have been really hard to be completely on our own at 18 years old.”
Mrs. Balassaitis said: “Extended foster care is a thing, people don’t realize. Extended foster care means they can live in your home, and they have to obey the rules of your house, basically, but they are still adults, they’re going to be ‘adulting.’
“They may not want a parent, but they definitely need an adult to show them the ropes,” she said, “[that] it really is possible to have a flourishing life. God has an amazing plan for your life, and He has an amazing future in mind for you, and if you can allow this weird adult next to you to help you do this thing together, a little bit of trust and a lot of wonderful things will happen!”