Devin Alexander is on a Mission to Raise Awareness of Foster Adoption
How her lifelong dream came true.
- Written byMichele Garber
- Photographed byLauren Pressey
It’s a lovely, early summer afternoon when we meet Devin Alexander and her beautiful daughter, Cayenne, at their Manhattan Beach home. Devin displays the classic tells of a new mom. She’s slightly tired yet absolutely beaming. Her irrepressible joy is palpable.
On Devin’s living room wall hangs an Anne Geddes-esque photo of Cayenne. She’s sitting cross-legged inside a wooden pasta bowl wearing a chef’s hat. A red checkered napkin is tied around her neck like a bib, and she’s holding a wooden spoon in her mouth.
A few years ago Devin created a vision board and placed a magazine picture of a baby posed in the same way at the board’s center. When Devin’s dream of a having a baby as envisioned on her board became reality, she recreated the image with her precious daughter to remind herself that dreams do come true.
When she was 43, Devin was told she may not be able to have children. Though disappointing, the news was not ruinous. Devin always wanted children, but having a biological child was not imperative. She explains, “When I was told I probably couldn’t have kids, it was fine. I always thought I’d have one and adopt one.”
Devin had friends in high school who were adopted. She says that when she felt she didn’t fit in, her friends who were adopted accepted her. “I secretly thought adopted people are nicer because they were nice to me,” she shares.
Five years later Devin made the decision to adopt. Remarkably, the journey from the day she began her pursuit to adopt a foster child through the day she brought her baby home happened in less than seven months. This was partly due to fortunate timing and partly to Devin’s tenacity.
When Devin sets her mind to something, she makes it happen. The 48-year-old best-selling author, celebrity chef and weight-loss expert has transformed her personal adversity into success, built a career by helping others achieve their goals, and in the process became her own brand.
When Devin was just 8, she was deeply impacted by two personal losses. First her uncle passed; then her best friend’s parents died in a plane crash. Her fear of loss led to insomnia and emotional eating. By the time she was 15, she had put on a considerable amount of weight. With aspirations of becoming an actress, she knew it was time to make a change.
She’d heard that eliminating 100 calories per day could result in losing 10 pounds per year. So she took her love of cooking instilled in her by her Italian grandma and developed creative ways to reduce the calories in her favorite recipes. Her small tweaks helped her lose 70 pounds.
“I made it into a game,” she recalls. “I’m a really competitive person. It worked.”
Interested in acting and screenwriting, Devin studied theatre at Smith College. For her senior thesis she produced and directed a sitcom. Impressed by her script, the Television Academy recruited her and she relocated to Los Angeles. “I believe one of the best ways to make new nice friends is to do charity work,” says Devin. So she began volunteering.
While Devin was running the greenroom at an American Cancer Society benefit, a few A-listers discovered she could cook food that was both delicious and healthy and suggested she become a personal chef. The idea that she could become a private chef and make a great living doing work she loves motivated her to table screenwriting and enroll in culinary school. “I was quite the little hustler,” she says.
After completing culinary school, she tapped into her contacts from Smith and from volunteering and built her own weight-loss consulting and catering business. But by age 27 she was having a quarter-life crisis.
“I thought by that age I would have a bigger platform—more ways to give back,” she recounts. “Money was never going to make me happy. I like impacting people’s lives. I love cooking, but when you own the catering company, someone else is cooking. The part I loved was coaching and showing people how to transform their lives.”
So she decided to transition into television. Devin had no prior on-screen experience, so she created a fake demo reel called “A Slice of Devin” and began pitching TV shows.
She chose one particular show runner whom she hoped to work with and waited outside his building. When she spotted him enter the lobby, she jumped on the elevator
with him and literally gave the proverbial elevator pitch. Her talent and gumption led to appearances on the Discovery Health channel and the TV show The Biggest Loser, where she became a media partner—authoring the show’s cookbooks.
Then in November 2015 everything changed. En route to a personal appearance, the car Devin was riding in was hit. Devin sustained multiple injuries including a concussion and traumatic brain injury. The accident forced her to temporarily cease working. It took well over a year before Devin’s life returned to normal. It was her wake-up call to refocus her life priorities.
Devin was now in her mid-40s. After her accident and learning she may not be able to have children, Devin was actively dating. She hoped to meet the right guy—someone who wanted a family and would be comfortable adopting.
In late April 2017, Devin had just said goodbye to a man she had been dating for several months. The brief yet promising courtship ended in the same way so many do for 40-something single women who want children: with the disheartening realization that the person she’s seeing doesn’t share the desire to have a family.
For Devin, this was not the first time a relationship had fizzled over the issue of children. Finding herself once again at this crossroad was complicated because of the lifestyle brand she successfully built, but she was ready to start a family on her own. “My brand is all about having it all, getting what you want and not giving up on your dreams,” she says.
Would deciding to become a mother on her own clash with having it all? On this momentous evening, she knew immediately what she should do. “It took about one minute until I came to the realization that I wanted a baby, and I wasn’t willing to wait any longer,” Devin shares. “I joke that most girls break up and get a haircut. I broke up and a got a baby.”
She jumped on her computer and searched “foster.” Within days she was attending a meeting at Westside Children’s Center (now called Allies for Every Child). She quickly discovered that adoptions through the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) often happen at an accelerated pace compared to private adoptions. She also learned that foster children can potentially be taken away and that adoptions can be fast-tracked (having to wait months versus years to adopt) depending on the circumstance.
Realizing she would need help navigating the process, she asked a few friends for advice. Two friends recommended she contact RaiseAChild, a nonprofit that helps families foster adopt.
Within weeks Devin attended a RaiseAChild all-day event that included an orientation, a physical exam and a background check. A week later she was beginning her four-week certification course to become a resource (foster) family. By August, DCFS had signed off on her home, and by October 26, Devin was certified to foster parent.
At 1:30 p.m. on November 22—the day before Thanksgiving and only 26 days after she was placed on the foster wait list—she received a call from a social worker that they had a baby girl ready for placement. The caveat: The baby needed to be placed in a home that day.
Devin often joked about being the only single woman without kids driving around with a car seat and a fully baby-proofed home. That day, her preparedness paid off. She had three hours to get to the hospital and pick up her 3-day-old baby. Cayenne’s adoption was finalized 17 months later, just two years after Devin first decided to adopt.
Until she experienced the process herself, Devin like so many others was unaware that foster adoption could be a viable and often quick option. Unfortunately, misconceptions about fostering children abound, deterring many families from pursuing that path to adoption—while more than 400,000 children in foster care wait to find a stable home. Now that Devin has successfully navigated the process, she’s determined to use her platform, share her story and enlighten others.
Since Devin completed her incredibly quick and relatively straightforward adoption process, she has gone on to support 12 other families who are also adopting foster children. Without Devin’s encouragement, these families may not have known that foster adoption was a reasonable possibility. Regrettably, far too few people who would make excellent foster parents are aware of the reality of becoming a resource family. The foster care system is awash in fallacies.
There are approximately 443,000 children in the U.S in foster care. Of those, 123,000 are awaiting adoption. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the number of foster children in U.S. has increased every year since 2012. Many experts attribute the increase to higher levels of drug use and homelessness.
DCFS will remove a child from a home due to abuse or neglect, but their primary goal is to reunite the family whenever possible. Birth parents are often offered drug treatment, housing and financial assistance to reestablish a safe home in hopes of reunifying a family. If a parent cannot provide a safe home and reunification is impossible, their parental rights are terminated. These children become eligible for adoption, which in some cases is fast-tracked as it was for Cayenne.
For aspiring parents who require alternative means to start a family, the prospect can be expensive. One round of IVF can cost $20,000, with only a 40% success rate. Surrogacy can cost upwards of $120,000, and private adoption may average $100,000.
Many people mistakenly think adopting a foster child will also cost $100,000. The truth is that foster adoption costs a fraction of the other options. There are programs in place to assist prospective resource families with every expense associated with fostering and adopting. These programs are based on the needs of the child, not the means of the family. In other words, even affluent prospective parents are eligible to receive financial assistance in opening their home to a child.
California reimburses adopting foster parents for a portion of their adoption fees. Resource parents are eligible for monthly assistance to cover the child’s expenses. Adopted foster children are also eligible for Medicaid and many other benefits.
Beyond financial assistance, when potential resource families seek help traversing the foster adoption process, there are numerous organizations ready to help.
For Devin, RaiseAChild was invaluable in her pursuit to adopt. The organization was founded by Rich Valenza, whose experience in adopting foster children inspired him to help others. The mission of RaiseAChild is to build loving families for foster children. Their mantra is “Let love define families.”
When Rich adopted his foster children, a 4- and 5-year-old sister and brother, his goal was to “provide a home for a life already created.” Rich was single when he started the certification process. Auspiciously, by the time his children were placed with him, he had met his partner. So the two were able to welcome their children together as a family.
Building a family can be especially complex for LGBTQ and single parents. After Rich and his partner adopted their children, Rich wanted to provide resources to help other prospective parents, and he wanted to help the 400,000+ kids in foster care find loving homes. As Rich explains, “We built this organization; none of us are social workers. We just have compassion for people and want to help.”
Described by L.A. County supervisor Sheila Kuehl as the “concierge of foster care,” RaiseAChild has helped more than 630 kids countywide with foster and/or adoption placement. There are more than 13,000 families in their database that RaiseAChild is actively assisting.
Devin is also a supporter of First Star, a nonprofit dedicated to helping foster teens with education and developing life skills. First Star helps in an area where the need is greatest: teenage children who will likely age out of the system. Sadly, the older a child gets, the chance for adoption declines exponentially. Yet these children are at a vulnerable age when they need the most support.
This fall First Star will honor Devin at their 20th anniversary celebration as she continues her efforts to shine a spotlight on foster care and adoption. “Cayenne is my world,” Devin says. “It worked out so well. Now I’m just as passionate about helping get other kids out of the system. It’s amazing how many people want kids and how many kids want parents.”