Spending your formative years without your parents carries many challenges. Unfortunately, it’s a situation that Monyay Paskalides knows all too well.
The 19-year-old from Bradenton, Florida, spent most of her life—including all her teenage years—in the foster care system.
When she aged out of the system last year, she prepared herself for a life of independence. She accepted that she would never have a mom or dad, so she pushed herself to excel in school.
Monyay’s efforts came into fruition when she graduated early and received recognition for her volunteer work.
Monyay entered a group home when she was 11 years old, and she said that transitioning to a life without the help of an adult was difficult and lonely.
As it turns out, she won’t be alone for long.
That’s because her former caseworker, Leah Paskalides, has formally adopted her!
The 32-year-old first met Monyay six years ago when she was assigned as her caseworker for the nonprofit organization Safe Children Coalition.
Leah, the caseworker, said she saw a lot of herself in Monyay.
“Once she trusted me, we just clicked,” she said.
Leah served as the teen’s case manager for three years before becoming her mentor, someone Monyay could rely on for help and advice.
Leah watched as Monyay got closer to the sad reality of turning 18 and aging out of the foster care system. Unfortunately, this happens to kids who turn 18 years old without being adopted.
Around their 17th birthday, the nonprofit organization’s independent living team starts talking with the children in the system about what their options are once they turn 18.
“I hated watching [Monyay] feel like she was neglected in the state’s eyes,” Leah said.
Although Leah wanted to adopt Monyay while she was still in the system, she couldn’t do so due to a conflict of interest in her role as a caseworker.
Leah, who is now the adoption assistant manager for Safe Children Coalition, said that she watched a documentary last year about a man who was adopted as an adult. It was an option she hadn’t even thought about until then.
She reached out to Monyay with the idea and asked her if it was something she would want, and the teen said yes.
“I wanted to make sure she knew that she had somebody who loved her and who would have done this years ago and still would as an adult,” Leah said.
And less than six months later, Leah and Monyay sat side-by-side as the judge in their adoption hearing declared that they were now officially mother and daughter.
“As soon as I put my hand on her shoulder, I lost it crying,” Leah said of the emotional moment.
It’s what Monyay has been waiting for all her life.
“I still can’t really describe the way I felt in that moment. It was beyond words,” she said. “That’s the one thing I’ve wanted my entire life, to have a mom.”
Monyay has called Leah “Mom” since the age of 16, but it has become more significant now that it’s “legal.”
The teen has also formally changed her last name and will soon receive a new birth certificate proving that she is now a Paskalides.
“She now refers to her adoption day as her birthday, so she has two birthdays each year,” Leah said. “We were always close, but now when she calls me, it means something even more to her. It’s legal, and that means the world to her, because for so long she didn’t really have a mom.”
Leah said that her daughter has been welcomed with open arms into her family. Monyay looks forward to traveling to New York soon to meet all of them in person.
Even Leah’s 90-year-old grandmother called her to say that she’s happy to be a great-grandmother.
“She said she didn’t think she’d live to see the day,” Leah said.
Monyay and Leah hope that their story inspires other families to consider adopting teens in the foster care system.
“A lot of people have assumptions about us, but we’re not bad kids. We need love, too, just like the younger kids,” Monyay said.
Click on the video below to learn more about this mother-and-daughter duo’s inspiring story.