A woman on a mission to help the most vulnerable

Jane Stephenson, third from left, with her family, from left, son Zach Stephenson, husband Hamilton Stephenson, son Ash Stephenson, son Cuan Stephenson, daughter Michaela Meredith, son Sim Stephenson and mother-in-law Carmen Monk, seated.

As part of Women’s Month, the False Bay Echo will speak to some extraordinary women, with inspiring stories.

Years ago, a Johannesburg newspaper advertised a children’s home that was seeking foster parents. As a result of that ad, Jane Stephenson, now a resident of Fish Hoek, began a journey that would profoundly affect not only her life but the lives of many vulnerable babies.

It was always a passion and one of Ms Stephenson’s heart’s desires to be a mom and have lots of children. Today, she is a mom of five (three biological and two adopted) children and runs a registered non-profit organisation that helps find “forever families” for orphaned or abandoned children.

To understand how this all came to be, she takes us back to when she first saw that advert, and how at that moment she felt her heart being stirred by God.

“The advert invited interested parties to attend an open meeting, which I did because it was something I couldn’t get my head around. How was it possible to take a child for a weekend, or just for the holidays, or just for a short period? It was a traumatic thought for me as I couldn’t imagine having to give up a child that I had invested my love into.”

It was only once Ms Stephenson and her husband, Hamilton, had three biological children of their own that she again felt that pull towards foster care and adoption. She discussed the idea of adopting with her husband and children, as well as church leaders.

In 2007, when Ms Stephenson was 40, and after further discussions with her children and husband, they decided to put their names forward to adopt. They approached Child Welfare, went through training courses and interviews, did all the necessary paperwork and went on the waiting list.

Nine months later, they welcomed a 9-month-old baby boy into their home.

“It was just the most beautiful, wonderful, supernatural, amazing, glorious experience, and one that was just so sweet and complete,” says Ms Stephenson.

Three years later, in 2010, Child Welfare contacted her and mentioned that the mother of her first adopted son was pregnant again. They asked whether she would be interested in adopting the baby. Without hesitation, she and her husband answered yes, but heard nothing back.

Soon after, says Ms Stephenson, she kept seeing God “handing her a baby”, and she felt that this baby’s name should be Naomi.

In 2013, when questioning whether they should put their names forward to adopt again, Ms Stephenson and her family visited a children’s home that was part of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Durban. The home provided temporary safe care for babies and children until adoption.

It was after that visit, when they arrived home, when Ms Stephenson and her husband started talking about the baby named Naomi. She says they realised that Naomi was not a baby but a vehicle for something greater.

That vehicle was the NPO founded in 2015 and known by many in the valley as Naomi’s Joy, a Christ-centred network of families that works together with social welfare and other adoption agencies to take vulnerable babies and give them a loving environment where they are cared for until they are placed with their “forever families.”

“What we do as an organisation is provide our care families with training, resources, and emotional, physical and spiritual support. We have also managed to get a chiropractor in the valley who sees the babies if they have colic at no cost, as well as a group of paediatric doctors in Tokai. A retired social worker also helps by keeping an eye on the families,” Ms Stephenson says.

To become a care family, she says, you need to be screened and accepted on government recognised criteria, by a registered child protection organisation, as well as the criteria of Naomi’s Joy, and be willing to provide a loving, healthy and sustainable home environment for the child in your care.

“In our organisation, a care family would be required to take one baby at a time to look after as their own, until the baby is hopefully adopted. The reality is that it could take between three and six months – sometimes even longer – for this to become possible. Some babies have been in care for three years. We need families who are prepared to care for these babies for pre-determined lengths of time.”

In the midst of getting Naomi’s Joy up and running, Ms Stephenson received another call from Child Welfare in the middle of 2015.

They had located a half-sibling of her adopted son in a children’s home in Athlone, which turned out to be the baby she had been contacted about in 2010 – he was already four and a half years old.

“When asked if we wanted to adopt him, we couldn’t say no, there was no question about it,” she says. “Now we have five children and in between that we did three temporary safe care babies with the help of my daughter, Michaela – who is amazing.”

She says the benefits of adoption extend well beyond the vulnerable babies “We believe it takes a community to raise a child.”

For more information on becoming a care family, or for details on how you can get involved in Naomi’s Joy, contact Jane Stephenson at 083 2542001 or email jane@naomisjoy.co.za