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Foster Mom Documents Relentless Journey To Adoption With Book 'Journey To The Son'

Carla Carlisle
Carla Carlisle
Carla Carlisle and son Devon.

About 11,000 children are in foster care in North Carolina — nearly 500 in Mecklenburg County, according to county officials. National, state and local officials say the need for foster parents is growing. That’s one of the reasons that Carla Carlisle, an IT executive in Charlotte, decided to foster a newborn baby boy nine years ago.

“I did make it known that I wanted a child that was in the most dire situation and would most likely not go back,” Carlisle said.

Carlisle thought she was prepared for whatever issues came with being a foster parent. What she wasn’t prepared for were the problems that came with her foster son’s parents. She says they were drug addicts and the mother was bipolar. Court documents back up her claims. To protect the child she came to love, Carlisle ended up taking care of the parents when the child was returned to them when he was still an infant.

Carlisle writes about her saga from foster parent to adoptive mother in a self-published book, “Journey to the Son.” She says she needed to tell her story to help alert others to some of the pitfalls sometimes involved when going the route of foster parenting as a path to adoption.

Journey to the Son
Journey to the Son by Carla A. Carlisle

Carlisle: I think I was fooling myself to think that I could handle it. But had I seen a situation where his parents were capable of caring for him, if I believed he was going to be safe, I would have followed the guidelines.

Glenn: And there were drugs involved, correct? Lots of people in and out of their home?

Carlisle: Yes. So my son was exposed to a lot of criminal behavior, drug abuse.   

Glenn: Now, you kept him for how long before they took him and gave him back to his parents? 

Carlisle: I had him as a foster parent for six months. And they called me later and said he’s being returned to his birth mother. 

Glenn: How did you feel at that point?

Carlisle: Like someone punched me in the stomach. And I was so concerned about him. I was 100% sure she was not capable of caring for him. 

Glenn: You guys ended up co-parenting him. And they seemed to have use you almost like an ATM. 

Carlisle: In my mind and in my heart I was helping. I did get him into school at age 3. And he ended up spending a lot of time with me, but by then I had affection for his birth parents and I wanted them to experience something different. And I bought a house and I put them in the house. 

Carlisle also paid most of Devon’s unemployed parents’ bills, bought them food, clothes and other things they felt they were entitled to because they allowed her to help raise their son. She sacrificed her life for Devon to the point that the once-vivacious executive said she became a ghost of the person she had been. 

Carlisle: I was very isolated and I was sad. And I was dealing with one emergency after another after another. It became very difficult to balance. I gained 40 pounds. I was diagnosed with situational depression and anxiety. I was in therapy every week and at one point my son’s birth mother hit me. That was kind of the beginning of the end of our relationship. 

Glenn: Because of that it affected his personality where he began to act out, right?

Carlisle: Yes he did. 

Glenn: He started hitting me, he started hitting people at school, and when he was 5, he threatened suicide. When he was 6, he tried to run out in front of a car -- once he tried to jump off of a deck at school.  

Carlisle says Devon was under a therapist’s care, but after she started receiving threats from the mother against her life and Devon’s, she hired an attorney to seek custody of him. She obtained emergency custody of Devon and protective orders against the parents. It took two years, but the receipts Carlisle kept over the years of all the expenses she incurred for the family along with threatening voice mails and other documents helped her win full custody of Devon and a permanent protective order.

Carla Carlisle
Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
Author Carla Carlisle

Carlisle says her experience is why she volunteers for mental health, suicide prevention, and child advocacy organizations. She and Devon participated in a documentary series on mental health and Carlisle also takes part in local law enforcement training sessions designed to teach them how to handle people with mental health issues. 

Carlisle: I participate on the panel discussions with the officers and I share our story. And I participate in role-playing so that they have the opportunity to actually go through this training and do actual scenarios.

Glenn: How does your son feel about the book?

Carlisle: My son wants his real name on the book [laughs]. He’s a very giving and compassionate child. He feels like telling our story and our journey will help other people. 

Glenn: Thank you for sharing your story with us today. 

Carlisle: Thank you so much for having me.

Glenn: Carla Carlisle is the author of “Journey to the Son.” 

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.