"I felt a powerful need to care for her"
Angelique Croasdale, an employee for the City of Hartford and a landlord, was drawn to help a young tenant who lived in one of her apartments 25 years ago.
"She was a tenant for over 20 years, and I got to know most of her kids," said Ms. Croasdale, who lived in the same building along with her sister. "She was young when I first got to know her, and there was some domestic violence. We looked out for her."
When the mother was pregnant with her youngest child seven years ago, she asked Ms. Croasdale and her sister what to name the baby.
Ms. Croasdale said she was drawn to help. "The friendship formed out of the concern we had," she remembered. "I used to help with teaching her kids their ABCs and colors - that sort of thing."
After years as a tenant, mother left for Florida with her two now-adult daughters. There, she gave birth to Padma. Due to unexpected family circumstances, the family came back to Connecticut and moved in with Ms. Croasdale's sister. Meanwhile Ms. Croasdale agreed to have then-two-year-old Padma sleep overnight in her apartment.
The Department of Children and Families became involved. With conditions in the family escalating, Ms. Croasdale said the investigator asked mom who could care for then-three-year-old Padma, and mom said it was Ms. Croasdale.
"Padma was so fragile - she wasn't walking or talking, she wasn't feeding herself," Ms. Croasdale said. "I felt a powerful need to care for her.”
DCF placed Padma in care, and Ms. Croasdale was licensed as a "special study" foster parent -- meaning the parent already knew the child and the child had a "familial" relationship with the caregiver. The placement became permanent.
Ms. Croasdale legally adopted Padma in a virtual court proceeding. One of the highlights of the proceeding was that Padma's second grade class from the Laurel Elementary School in Bloomfield participated virtually and was beamed onto the screen for Padma to see. In turn, the class was able to see Padma, Ms. Croasdale and the Judge who conducted the proceeding.
Ms. Croasdale said the class participation meant so much to Padma.
"Padma felt like her classmates cared and wanted to experience the moment with her," Ms. Croasdale said. "Padma was elated, and when she went to school later that day, the school had an ice cream social for her."
Padma's DCF social worker, Heather Czerwinski, said the school's support of Padma began long before the adoption. Ms. Czerwinski said Padma required some extra supports.
"This school did whatever it could to keep her experience at school as normal as possible," Ms. Czerwinski said, giving special credit to the school social worker. "Everybody at the school really cares about her."
Ms. Czerwinski said at the adoption proceeding, the whole class cried out in unison: "Congratulations Padma!"
Ms. Czerwinski, who works in the DCF Hartford office, said, "I've been doing adoptions at least 15 years, and it’s the first time I've seen that type of caring or that kind of a close-knit group. This is Padma's village that is wrapped around her."
Both Ms. Croasdale and Ms. Czerwinski said Padma has made tremendous strides.
"Through Angelique's nurturing and the school, I've seen this growth in Padma," said Ms. Czerwinski. "She was so shy and now she has friends!"
Ms. Croasdale said Padma's growth has been remarkable.
"It's day and night - this little girl is so phenomenal," said Ms. Croasdale. "It's as if something went off." Ms. Croasdale points out with pride that Padma is getting an award at school for academic progress.
Ms. Croasdale remembers being in the car with Padma during the days leading up to the adoption when Padma turned to Ms. Croasdale and thanked her for "becoming my permanent mommy."
That left Ms. Croasdale overwhelmed with emotion. "Looking at her growth, when she calls me mommy, my heart takes an extra flip," Ms. Croasdale said.