Reece’s Rainbow Report #44: Robbins Family

Every time Sharon Robbins brought home one of her eight adopted children, she was in it for life.

If one or more of them needed to stay with her and her husband Dan permanently because of their special needs, that was okay. 

But life is full of surprises. The Robbins have spent the last three years watching several of their adopted children blossom as young adults — outside of their Oregon home. 

“What I have learned is that living with us forever is not necessarily the best thing,” says Robbins, a 65-year-old stay-at-home mother. “Just like living with me forever would not be the best thing for a typically developing young adult.” 

Of the Robbins’ nine children, three (including one biological daughter who is herself a foster and adoptive mom) are living independently. The two youngest — 14-year-old twin boys — still live at home. That leaves four adult children, now all residents in nearby group or foster homes. 

“It’s a huge weight off me and has taught me a lot I didn’t expect,” Robbins says, “I believe that my kids are all better at this point for that level of independence they have.” 

It’s a journey that started in 1981, when Robbins and Dan, a millwright and knife-grinder in the wood products industry, adopted their oldest son from Mexico. They also fostered more than 40 children across a span of 18 years, eventually adopting several with special needs, including Down syndrome

Then, through a local community group for families of children with Down syndrome, Robbins met Jennifer and Brandon Willis. The couple explained that they were adopting two girls with Down syndrome from Russia. Robbins began reading Jennifer’s blog.

“Then I found Reece’s Rainbow and started going down the rabbit hole,” Robbins laughs. She became a Warrior for two waiting children in Russia, praying and advocating for their adoption. But she eventually wanted to do more.

“God put it on my heart to adopt again,” she says. The couple contacted an agency and were getting ready to submit the paperwork to adopt a Russian girl with Down syndrome named Ekaterina. But the girl disappeared from the database. When she eventually reappeared, there was not enough time for the family to bring her home before Putin banned Americans from adopting his nation’s children. 

The Robbinses instead turned to Bulgaria and found Elaina, a dark-eyed 10-year-old with an intellectual disability, code-named “Alyssa.” She was at the infamous Pleven orphanage, notorious at the time for its mistreatment of children with special needs. A few months later, they added 12-year-old “Beacan, whose real name was Ethan. The two new siblings came home in November of 2013. 

Ethan, a “generally very happy guy,” Robbins says, has VACTERL Association and autism and is nonverbal. Despite occasional aggression used as communication, Robbins soon began seeing Ethan’s true brightness “underneath all the layers of 12 years in an orphanage.” 

“He’s extremely observant and picks up how to do things just by watching,” Robbins says. Like a newborn baby, Ethan quickly bonded to his new parents upon his adoption. It took him less than three months to start walking, using Robbins as his living walker toy.

Elaina, meanwhile, challenged the Robbinses with her extreme need for attention brought about by years of feeling invisible at an orphanage. She struggled with social boundaries, truth-telling and hypochondria but quickly displayed a love and eye for art and beauty. 

“When she first came home, she did not have a big array of emotions, so she didn’t have sad or frustrated or any of the nuances of our emotions,” Robbins remembers. “The first time she was able to cry and say, ‘I’m just so sad!’ was a huge breakthrough for her.” 

There have been other breakthroughs, too, though Robbins doesn’t always see them. “It’s hard when you’re living in the day-to-day, when the progress is so incremental and tiny, to say, ‘Man, we’ve really come a long ways,’” Robbins says. “But we haven’t even hit the point where they have lived with a family as long as they have without.” 

The Covid lockdowns definitely brought about a change to the family dynamic. With so many children of varying needs stuck at home, Robbins realized that the situation was less than ideal. They couldn’t keep everyone safe, nor attend to everyone’s medical appointments at once. 

So they found a group home for Corwin, their young adult son with Down syndrome adopted from foster care. He began thriving in a way he never had at home.

“I was keeping him a little kid in my house, because that was just how things ran here,” Robbins explains. “But all of a sudden Corwin was out with adults, got a gym membership, going to dance classes, going to a dude ranch in Texas! He just blossomed.” 

The experience went so well that when a spot opened up for David, another adult son adopted from foster care, they took it. David, too, began growing in a way the Robbinses had never witnessed. Within days of David’s placement, they found a home for 22-year-old Ethan, too.

Before long, a place opened up for 20-year-old Elaina at an adult foster home for women. All the group homes are within a 15-minute drive of the Robbins’ home, and they see those children weekly, if not more. They are still the legal guardians, in charge of all medical decisions, but the logistics of everyday life — including an active social life with similar friends — is spread amongst trained staff. 

“Elaina has made good friends at her home,” Robbins says. “And she has her own phone, so she calls us.” 

It’s not exactly the life she once pictured. But it’s the one they have — and Robbins is perfectly happy with that. 

“It’s been great for the kids,” Robbins says. “They come home for holidays and birthdays, always back and forth. Their worth is huge to us, and we have as much pride in the little things that they accomplish as we would if they were straight-A students or captains of the football team.”

Their biggest cheerleader, then, in it for life — no matter where it takes them.

Crystal Kupper
Crystal Kupper is a freelance writer specializing in magazines and special projects. Since earning her journalism degree, she has written for clients such as Zondervan, Focus on the Family and the Salvation Army, among many others.
Follow Us
Facebook  Twitter  Instagram  Linkedin  
In Case You Missed Any of Our Previous Editions CLICK HERE