Erin Konecky’s nose doesn’t look like it did when she was 8 years old.
After her family got into a car accident with a drunk driver, Konecky had to have reconstructive surgery changing the way her nose looked.
But now, her nose matches the nose of her 5-year-old foster daughter Harlow. So much so, Konecky’s mother likes to say it was meant to be.
It’s one of the many things she loves about her family.
She likes how her 9-year-old son Gram and her 4-year-old foster son look like brothers and how all three kids have the same, sandy hair.
Konecky likes how her family feels just a little bit bigger than before.
And on Nov. 20, it became official.
The Waverly High School journalism teacher and her husband Tim adopted Harlow and her brother, JJ, into their family at the City/County Building in Lincoln. The two also gained a brother – Tim and Erin’s son, Gram.
Konecky said she had been hoping for an adoption date in August or September, but due to COVID-19 and unexpected delays from the government, the adoption process experienced a number of delays.
Child and Family Services Specialist Kelsey Hans said delays, like Konecky family’s, have become a norm during COVID-19. Because of the pandemic healthcare providers, such as therapists, could not turn in documentation as quickly.
As of Oct. 31, Nebraska has only had 292 adoptions, according to data from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). In all of 2019, there were 547 official adoptions in Nebraska.
DHHS Deputy Director of Protection and Safety Alger Studstill said to offset the low adoption numbers, DHHS has launched an advertising campaign for National Adoption Month in November.
Studstill said normally DHHS would go door-to-door to inform residents of the need for potential foster and adoptive parents but because of COVID-19, it resorted in other ways.
DHHS has changed its marketing campaigns by posting on social media with the hashtag #NationalAdoptionMonth and running a television commercial featuring Gov. Pete Ricketts and First Lady Susanne Shore.
“We’ve just had to adapt and be flexible throughout the entire process,” Studstill said. “Hopefully, National Adoption Month kicks off, and we’re able to end the year strong.”
DHHS has also been encouraging hotlines for adoptive parents or potential adoptive parents. With the pandemic, the hotline has been used more during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If they have questions and they want to start the process, if they need more information, or they’re interested but they’re really not ready to make a decision today, all they need to do is contact that hotline,” Studstill said. “Then somebody will work with them and walk them through that process.”
The first time Konecky considered adopting or fostering children was in 2016 after her second miscarriage.
“I was in the bathtub, bawling and decided I wanted to do something that I could control, like have a kid, so I just signed up.”
Konecky and her husband began completing extensive paperwork and classes provided by CEDARS Home For Children in Lincoln.
In spring 2017, Konecky learned she was pregnant for the third time, which put her fostering efforts to a halt. In July of 2017, during an ultrasound, Konecky and her husband were told their baby had genetic conditions that would ultimately cause him to die.
Their son, Spencer, died in October of 2017.
Konecky later considered a fostering to adopt option, and after updating their license the family began doing respite which she described as “daycare for foster kids.”
Respite is when another family cares for a foster child temporarily. Konecky said it helps new foster parents acclimate to their future responsibilities if a child were to officially be placed with them. The Koneckys did respite with four or five different families before being placed with Harlow and JJ.
Harlow and JJ were 3 and 1 years old when they were first placed in the Konecky home in January 2019. Konecky said she doesn’t really remember how the first month went by but remembers the second month being overwhelming because of the trauma the kids experienced.
The Konecky family posed for a photo outside their home before the official adoption of 5-year-old Harlow and 4-year-old JJ on Nov. 20. Harlow and JJ were placed with the Koneckys in January 2019 and after many delays due to COVID-19 and backlogged paperwork, they were able to make the adoption official.
Because of the neglect the children dealt with in their previous home, JJ and Harlow initially would scream or yell in order to get their needs met, Konecky said.
“Our house was just always really really loud,” Konecky said.
But now, it’s different. Konecky and her family still have the occasional bumps, but Konecky said the issues feel normal.
“I feel like now the issues that we’re having are normal issues when having three kids,” Konecky said. “My friend that has three kids; we have similar issues.”
Along with “normal issues,” being told they all look alike and having a bigger family, Konecky said they are also now an official family. While Konecky is overjoyed by this, she can’t help but feel mixed emotions.
“It’s like we all gained something today, but we all lost something too,” Konecky said.
Her son Gram is no longer an only child. The Koneckys are no longer a family of three. Harlow and JJ lost their biological last name. For Konecky, it’s happy, but she said the adoption is all created around years of trauma. That’s the hard part.
“It’s a good thing, but it’s also a sad thing,” Konecky said. “Our family growing meant that somebody else’s family changed.”