Foster Care Caseworker Adopts 19-Year-Old Girl Who Aged Out of System: 'We Just Clicked'
Monyay Paskalides has been calling Leah Paskalides "Mom" since she was 16 years old, and now — just in time for Mother's Day — the two have finally made it official.
Paskalides, 32, adopted Monyay, 19, on April 27, six years after the two first met when Paskalides was assigned as the teen's foster care caseworker, according to the Safe Children Coalition.
"Both Leah and Monyay hope to serve as a reminder of the teens in care still in need of a safe and loving home!" the Florida-based nonprofit wrote on Facebook. "Congratulations, Leah and Monyay!! We are SO happy for you!"
Monyay was first placed into a group home in foster care at just 11 years old, and spent the rest of her childhood in the system, according to Fox affiliate KSTU.
Her life changed for good, though, when Paskalides was assigned as her caseworker for the Safe Children Coalition, which helps Florida kids in foster care.
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The two bonded immediately, and Paskalides became a mentor to Monyay after spending three years as her caseworker, according to Good Morning America.
"I met her, and I saw a lot of myself in her," Paskalides told the outlet. "Once she trusted me, we just clicked."
Though the pair remained close, Paskalides' job presented a conflict of interest that prevented her from adopting Monyay — until she aged out of the system.
"It was really hard going from being in a group home with an adult to help you to immediately being by yourself without an adult to help," Monyay told GMA of aging out. "It was lonely."
After a documentary film about a man who'd been adopted as an adult reportedly sparked her imagination, Paskalides presented the idea to Monyay, and within six months they'd made it a reality.
"It was important to me that she knew that she was wanted by somebody, that somebody loved her," Paskalides told KSTU. "I could say that as many times as I want, but actions speak louder than words."
In an emotional ceremony, a judge made their family bond official, and Monyay has since updated her last name, and will soon receive a new birth certificate, according to GMA.
"I still can't really describe the way I felt in that moment. It was beyond words. That's the one thing I've wanted my entire life, to have a mom," Monyay told the outlet. "I never expected to be adopted, and here I am. [Paskalides] never gave up on me."
Monyay has reportedly been welcomed into her new family with open arms, and hopes to meet Paskalides' extended family in New York soon. She's currently working at a daycare center and studying for a degree in early childhood education.
"To me, this is closure," Monyay told KSTU. "This is something I've always wanted."