At eight years old, Nathaniel had big dreams. He wanted to be a hockey player, and be part of a family.
“A sister, a brother, a mom, a dad, a dog, a cat,” he listed off to Global News in 2008.
At that point he had been in foster care for a year and a half.
He was profiled on a Global News story about adoption, which is when a Toronto couple saw him and fell in love.
“We’d never talked about adopting, but we were both open to it,” said Steve Burns.
After a stringent approval process Sue Sindrey called her husband with the news.
“I said, ‘It’s a boy'” said Sindrey, with a laugh. “It was an incredible thing to happen.”
Eight years later the family has been through the highest of highs and lowest of lows.
Nathaniel has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. His parents said they expected challenges, but they didn’t expect to be let down by the system.
First, they had trouble finding a school where staff were familiar with FASD.
“It’s not recognized by the educational system,” said Sindrey. “It’s a medical diagnosis.”
When they needed more help with behavioural issues at home Nathaniel was shifted from one program to another.
They thought they’d finally found an agency that could help, but Nathaniel scored too “high” on an IQ test.
“As soon as they looked at his test he said, ‘No, he doesn’t qualify,'” explained his mom.
Then things got worse. They were told for Nathaniel to get the most help they should give up their parental rights.
“We were aggressively encouraged to give him up at multiple meetings,” said Sindrey.
Instead they kept pushing until they got a personalized solution, a home for Nathaniel, with workers who know how to help him.
“They work on his strengths. The environment is carefully controlled, and I get to be his mom,” said Sindrey.
“Don’t give up searching for the solution,” is the message Burns wanted other parents to get.
They think back to that little boy who dreamed of a mom, a dad, a brother and sister and know most of his dreams have come true, especially the brother part.
Best friends barely describes it.
“The two of them together, they’re a force of nature,” said Burns.
They said through every step of their journey, they’ve been thankful Nathaniel is part of their family.