Tears of joy fill Tex Petersen’s eyes as he waits outside a courtroom in Fresno County Superior Court on a recent summer day.
The father of three is in court to add a fourth child to his family with the adoption of 18-year-old Carson Petersen, who has spent most of his life bouncing from home to home in the foster care system because of abuse, homelessness, addiction and death.
It was just awesome to be wanted.
“It’s now finally over for him,” Tex says. “He has a forever family.”
An adoption like Carson’s is rare. The young man is the first adult in foster care to be adopted this year in Fresno County. Statewide, only 15 of 12,025 adults in foster care were adopted last year in California, says Tricia Gonzalez, deputy director of child welfare for Fresno County’s Department of Social Services.
Of 2,200 foster youth in Fresno County, around 200 are adults. State law AB12, which went into effect January 2012, allows adults to remain in foster care up to the age of 21 as long as they are working, going to school, have a medical condition, or are doing something to overcome an issue, like therapy for substance abuse.
Carson entered the system as a toddler following the suicide of his mother. He was reunited with his biological father, who had spent time in jail, for a few years while Carson was in elementary school until officials discovered that his dad was using drugs and was homeless and abusive. Carson was separated from a younger brother, who remains in foster care, shortly after being taken away from his father.
Carson was first welcomed into Tex and Renee Petersen’s home three years ago – a placement that was only supposed to last for a few days as social workers looked for a new foster family for the teen. But when the time came for him to go, Carson asked to stay. The Petersens said yes – and yes again earlier this year when Carson asked if they would adopt him.
They taught me how to believe in myself.
“It really is a testament to the family that Carson, at age 18, would want to join it,” says Chad Williams, pastor of Harmony Free Will Baptist Church in Fresno, the Petersens’ church. Around 25 members of the church filled the courtroom June 30 to cheer for Carson as his adoption was finalized.
“They never gave up on me,” Carson says of why he wanted the Petersens to be his family for life. “I put them through hell, and we just never gave up on each other.”
Building a new life
It wasn’t easy for Carson or his new family to form the relationship they have today.
“I would shut down,” Carson recalls. “I would always have this wall built up so no one could hurt me. I didn’t like talking to new people, and I used to smoke and drink.”
Tex and Renee Petersen never stopped supporting the boy they knew was hurting behind that wall.
I’d tell him that he was worth it, that’s the biggest thing.
“We had to do a trauma inventory of Carson, and my heart was just totally broken,” Tex recalls of one foster parent training session. “We put his name next to almost every single traumatic life event that they had on paper.”
The Petersens, who have one biological son, 18-year-old Hunter, decided to become foster parents a handful of years ago after they were unable to have more children of their own. They have adopted three of the four children they’ve taken in – and would have adopted the fourth if the child’s older sister hadn’t requested custody. Their decision to take in Kaylynn and Joshua, now ages 4 and 2, respectively, was easier for Hunter than when Carson joined the family, but the teens worked through their issues.
To help express their bond, they got tattoos. Each has Roman numerals representing the date of June 24, 2014 – the day Carson first came into the family. On Hunter’s arm is the image of a bow, and on Carson’s, an arrow. Together, the images are meant to symbolize Hunter helping his brother launch successfully into his future.
“Now I’ve got that guy who’s always going to be there,” Hunter says of Carson, “and I’m always going to be there for him.”
Beyond the emotional support, as an adopted child Carson will receive all the same benefits under the law that a biological child can receive from a parent, such as medical insurance.
Since Carson started living with the Petersens, his grades improved, he became a football player, he got a job at a tractor supply company to earn money so he could buy a car, and he started training to become a firefighter – a job he hopes to get after graduating from Clovis East High School next year.
He recently changed his name legally to Carson Petersen to take on his adoptive family’s surname and because he had been named after his biological father and didn’t want to be his “junior.”
Carson says the Petersens “taught me how to believe in myself.”
“I’d tell him that he was worth it,” Tex says, “that’s the biggest thing. … He felt like he wasn’t worth anything, so why try to strive?”
Carson is striving now.
Of his adoption, he says with a smile, “It was just awesome to be wanted.”
Resources for interested foster and adoptive parents
Contact information for people interested in learning more about how to become a foster or adoptive parent in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Fresno County: 1-877-533-KIDS (5437)
Tulare County: 559-623-0590