Parents and advocates

The Stevens family's commitment to children did not end with adopting four children.

June 21, 2011

The Stevens family
Today Alex, Brian, Joshua, and Samara are all flourishing.

Derek and Phyllis Stevens of Harleysville, Penn., founded the parent-support agency Together as Adoptive Parents, Inc. in 1988 after raising four children who were adopted, three of whom had special needs. Today all four of their children are thriving.

Believing love was enough

When the Stevens adopted their first special needs child in 1983, a boy named Joshua who was born drug addicted, the agency told them all he needed was love. Having already been adoptive parents for three years to their eldest daughter Samara, the Stevens believed that love was enough.

"Well, that didn't last long," Phyllis said.

The Stevens adopted Joshua when he was 13 months old and were told by the doctors he would have learning disabilities and the possibility of developing Multiple Sclerosis.

However, the challenges they faced with Joshua weren't enough to dissuade them from adopting their second special needs child in 1987, a four-year-old named Brian who was mentally disabled. The Stevens were told Brian would never read or write and the best thing they could do was buy him a computer and sit him in a corner.

Searching for support and services

Feeling alone and overwhelmed in how to find the services they needed for Joshua and Brian, the Stevens founded the organization Together as Adopted Parents, Inc. (TAP) in 1988.

"My children needed services, services that we did not have and did not know how to get. We felt if we needed services, other adoptive, foster, and kinship families must need services as well," Phyllis said.

In addition to forming a support group for families of children with special needs, TAP also provided the ability for the Stevens to start an online resource called Taplink that helps families locate services in their community.

A bright future ahead

In 2000, the Stevens adopted their third special needs child, a three-year-old girl named Alex who had developmental delays due to Fetal Alcohol Effects and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Today Alex, Brian, Joshua and their sister Samara are all flourishing. Alex is working at a McDonald's and Brian, who spent nine months helping build a church in Ukraine after graduating from high school, works at a major food store. Joshua, who was recently accepted for employment by the FBI, graduated from college with a major in international business and a minor in French.

Creating a future for all children

Although three of their four children are all young adults, the Stevens remain committed to speaking on the behalf of the nearly 500,000 children in the child welfare system who cannot speak for themselves. Their agency, TAP, was even named the 2009 Foster Parent Agency of the Year by the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association.

"Was it easy raising my children? No. Was it worth it? Yes. We believe we not only gave our children a future, we also gave their children a future," Phyllis said.

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