Fostering hope for the future
Here, we have found people willing to make families complete.
— Chuck Apt, Iola attorney
on National Adoption Day
It’s not a stretch to say members of the Allen County District Court recently experienced one of the happiest hearings of their lives.
For once, all parties received a positive verdict.
The occasion was National Adoption Day, when 16 children, ranging from toddlers to teens, were legally adopted. Magistrate Judge Tod Davis performed the joint ceremonies last Friday, addressing each child by their new adoptive name.
Local attorney Chuck Apt, who serves as a guardian ad litem and represents children in court, was also there to witness the joyous occasion.
“There may not be a word to describe this, to see the smiles on the kids’ faces, and the parents and grandparents, even the judge,” Apt said afterward. “Fun is not the right word. It’s exhilarating.”
The ceremony was a collaborative effort among KVC Health Systems, an organization that specalizes in foster care, adoption and family therapy services; the Kansas Department for Children and Families; Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA); and the 31st Judicial District.
The ceremony was the second straight time National Adoption Day has been celebrated here, said Michele Hocket, a KVC permanency supervisor. In 2017, nine adoptions were finalized.
“This is why we do what we do,” Hockett said, adding nearly 700 Kansas children are still waiting to be adopted. She hopes to continue the event in the future, with even larger groups of kids finding permanent homes.
“This is absolutely my favorite thing to do,” said Apt.
He and Judge Davis eagerly agreed to the mass adoption idea when approached by KVC last year.
Days like that are gratifying, agreed David Kurt, regional DCF director, who also was on hand for the ceremony.
“The reality is kids do well with families,” Kurt said. “It takes a special family to bring in a child.”
The Register visited with several of the family members who took part in the ceremony.
David and Wendy Wade, of Buffalo, were a typical young family, with two daughters of their own.
But when Wendy, who was working in the Fredonia school district, learned of two young girls in desperate need of a home, she couldn’t sit on her hands and do nothing.
“That’s what drew us into it,” Wendy said. “We decided to become foster parents, thinking we were going to adopt these two girls.”
Though they did become foster parents, the adoption of the two girls never happened for myriad reasons, Wendy said.
Nine years, and 75 kids later, the Wades are still foster parents.
Two years ago, they adopted Kayla, who’s now 4. And this month, Kinlee, who recently celebrated her second birthday, officially joined the family.
“From the first day I met them, I’m pretty sure I felt my back break, because I was already wrapped around their little fingers,” David said. “It was an automatic bond, the same love I felt when we had our biological daughters. The exact same love.”
As an added bonus, Kinlee’s great-aunt has bonded with the family.
“She’s a perfect grandmother figure,” Wendy said, noting the Wades stay in touch with several parents of children they’ve housed.
Through the foster care process, the Wades have learned not to set expectations or parameters.
Originally, their plan was take in only older children, say well beyond the toddler stage.
“We didn’t want anybody under 6,” Wendy said.
Instead, of the 75 foster kids they’ve taken in, only two were older than 6.
“We’re still fostering four kids,” David laughed, all 2 years old or younger. “They’re like Bonnie and Clyde, running roughshod over everything.”
When it came to adopting a foster child, the Wades knew better than to get their hopes up.
“There were three or four others we’d have adopted on the spot if we’d had the chance,” David said. “It’s been an amazing journey. There are always surprises, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes heartwarming. When the kids go back home we just root for them, and hope their parents are back on track and the kids are gonna be just fine.”
ROB AND VICKY CHANDLER
Living in St. Louis, Rob and Vicky Chandler had talked occasionally about wanting children.
If they couldn’t have one on their own, adoption was a strong possibility.
The plans began to take shape about two years ago when Vicky attended a retreat, in which prospective parents were shown the foster care and adoption process.
The retreat led to a series of background checks and classes until the Chandlers earned their foster parent credentials over the summer.
“We’d heard about a couple of kids who were up for adoption,” Vicky recalled. “I prayed very hard, and that’s when we heard about Marley and Dylan.”
The youngsters were living in Pittsburg, which sparked another round of paperwork and interviews for the Chandlers because they lived in another state.
They were introduced to each other in early spring. The Chandlers would travel from St. Louis to Kansas on a nearly weekly basis to visit with the youngsters over the weekend.
That led to July, when Marley and Dylan were placed permanently with the Chandlers, who by then were certain they wanted to adopt.
“We knew in an instant, even before we saw their pictures, that we wanted to make this work,” Vicky said.
But a funny thing happened along the way in the adoption process. Vicky learned last fall she was pregnant.
The news mattered not a whit, Rob laughed, because he and Vicky already had their hearts set on connecting with Marley and Dylan. “Instead of four, we’re five,” he said.
Frankie, the youngest of the Chandler clan, was born in August, a week before Marley and Dylan started school.
BRYAN AND LAUREL HALL
A full household is nothing new for the Halls of Chanute.
They’ve housed more than 90 foster kids over the past nine years, on top of the eight they call their own.
“We’re the Brady Bunch,” Laurel joked.
Just since September, they’ve housed 32 kids at one point or another — some were repeats — because Bryan and Laurel obtained “respite” foster care certification.
That meant bringing in kids at all hours, at a moment’s notice, in case of emergencies.
“We’re the ones who get the call at 1 a.m. saying they need an immediate placement,” Laurel explained.
Some of the kids leave an impact, including Christopher, 14, who had been with Bryan and Laurel with his three older siblings at one point about seven years ago.
The siblings eventually were broken up because Bryan and Laurel had moved to a smaller home.
The oldest stayed with them; the other three, including Christopher, found other foster families, but stayed in touch.
Then came word about two years ago that Christopher, now 14, was in need of a new home.
Bryan was out working when Laurel fielded the call. She excitedly called her husband, but held off on revealing their new foster child’s identity.
“I was out working, and she says, ‘I’m gonna bring in another kid,’” Bryan recalled.
The reunion was a special surprise for Christopher as well.
“They didn’t tell him where he was going,” Bryan said. “But when they drove up to the house, his eyes got real big, and his smile grew wide.”
Christopher burst in the front door, with a simple declaration: “I’m home!”
So confident was Bryan that Christopher’s stay would be permanent, he filled out his report in advance, noting the date the family was reunited. On the space reserved for the end date of a foster child’s stay, Bryan entered a single word: “Never.”
“Being a foster parent is so fulfilling,” Bryan said. “We get a chance to touch the children’s lives with words of encouragement. So much is negative when we first get them. We want to give them a home, to make them realize they can still make a difference.”
The Halls received another pleasant surprise as they began the adoption process.
“Our interview with DCF was Nov. 1,” Laurel noted, adding the couple didn’t expect to hear they were approved for several more weeks.
Apt said such instances, where it was readily apparent a family was suitable to adopt a youngster, allowed officials to expedite the proceedings to allow all to be a part of this month’s ceremony.
“This year, we identified the day a little bit earlier,” Apt said. “We weren’t sure how many we’d get, but we knew we had a whole bunch of cases up for adoption. Some were long-term that we delayed, and a bunch we expedited to do on Adoption Day.”
He lauded DCF, KVC and court workers who helped create a memorable day. “One of these kids, I’ve known since the age of 4,” Apt said. “It’s a big deal to see this completed. To me, I have a very, very vested interest in doing this.”
BRANDON AND STEPHEN MCCULLOUGH-HEMBREE
Having already adopted two youngsters, Brandon and Stephen McCullough-Hembree weren’t certain they wanted to add to their family.
That was until they met Patrick, 12, a precocious preteen with a definite affinity for science, math and video games.
You know, nerd things.
“We’re both kind of on the nerdy side, too,” Brandon laughed. “When (KVC) contacted us about bringing him in, we realized just how well he fit. He’s such a bright kid.”
“We really weren’t looking to adopt,” Stephen added. “We figured we were good with these two,” referring to Jacob, whom they adopted in 2016, and Hailey, who has been an official member of the family since October. “But they called and said there was a kid who might be a good fit.
“It was one of those things where we had to sit down and figure out if we can provide a quality of life that’s needed for Patrick,” Stephen continued. “Luckily, we’re both professionals and willing and able to provide that quality. We’re fortunate.”
Patrick quickly bonded with his two younger siblings, with one notable exception.
“I want my own room,” he bellowed.
That’s because Jacob, 7, is an early riser, “And when he gets out of bed, he announces it with a loud boom,” Brandon laughed. “Everybody’s awake then.”
The family might grow at some point, Brandon added. “You never know.”
AIMEE DANIELS, executive director of CASA, said she hopes to see similar mass adoption ceremonies replicated in future years.
She pointed to not only the difficult circumstances involved in removing kids from their biological parents but also the challenges they face in their homes, which are nothing short of chaotic.
“The top three reasons for child in need of care cases are substance abuse, mental health concerns and domestic violence,” she said. “And then you have others dealing with long-term poverty. If you’re dealing with abuse, neglect or both, it can be stressful for everybody.”
Her concern lies in the hundreds of youngsters who go through the system without finding a suitable foster home or somebody willing to adopt.
“The outcomes for those kids most often are not good,” she said.
Following the ceremony, CASA hosted a reception for the families at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.
Apt agreed with Daniels’ assessment.
“Other people may look at these cases from the opposite end,” he said, “that we’ve taken families apart. That’s not what’s occurred. That’s another process. Here, we have found people willing to make families complete.”