It's never too late to find your family. That's the heartwarming message being shared by Leah Paskalides and her newly adopted daughter, 19-year-old Monyay.
At the age of 11, Monyay was placed into a foster care group home. The pain of having to go through life without a family was always difficult, but it hit hard in her senior year of school. "My senior year is when I went through one of those, 'I don't want to do it anymore, I'm done,'" she told ABC News.
Monyay finished school a year early and took the extra time to focus on volunteering with foster children like her. But she faced a tough road ahead, as she was about to age out of the system.
According to the Children's Home Society of Minnesota, the 23,000 children who age out of foster care every year without families face many challenges. Only 3% earn a college degree, half will develop a substance abuse problem, 60% of boys are convicted of crimes, and 70% of girls become pregnant before the age of 21.
After she turned 18, it looked like she would have to enter the real world as an adult without any real support. But then her caseworker and mentor from the Safe Children Coalition stepped up.
Leah had always wanted to adopt Monyay but it was a conflict of interest with her work.
"She always said, 'I wish you could adopt me, wish you could adopt me,' and I couldn't because of the job and then I was watching a documentary where the person had been adopted as an adult, and I had never really heard of it," Leah said.
So she decided to adopt Monyay as her adult daughter. "It was important to me that she knew that she was wanted by somebody, that somebody loved her," Leah told Fox 13. "I could say that as many times as I want, but actions speak louder than words."
On Tuesday, a judge signed the paperwork making the adoption official.
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"Being told 'no' so many times, to hear that 'yes' and to hear them pronounce her as my mom, it's something that's like, oh my gosh, this is for real," Monyay told Fox 13.
The funny thing is the two didn't hit it off at first. Five years ago when Leah was assigned her case, Monyay didn't like her. "She told me what she was going to be doing and helping me out with my case, and I didn't like her; she'll tell you that," said Monyay.
But over the past five years, the two forged an unbreakable bond.
"She was very motivated and had aspirations for a future, and so I knew she just needed support," Leah said. "She was always a kid that did not deserve to go through life without a support system of a family."
The newly-formed family is sharing their story to bring hope to children in the foster care system by letting them know they can be adopted as adults. "It's never too late because I'm grown but I'm still being adopted," Monyay said. "Just because it didn't happen then it doesn't mean that it won't happen."
Monyay hopes to one day open her own group home for teens to help children who grew up like she did.
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