Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The downfall of sibling groups...

Today is my brother's birthday.  I had just turned five years old the week before Brady was born and one of my earliest memories is his birth.

I woke up to the smell of pancakes filling the house and was excited to see my Great Uncle Jake in the kitchen cooking his famous "silver dollar pancakes."  His presence there also meant that the time had come to get a new brother or sister.

My sister, Courtney, and I were taken to the hospital with our sloppy ponytails and mismatched clothes to meet our new sibling.  And that was it.  The beginning of an automatic, understood bond that forms between siblings.

The differences between the three of us were/are...very different!  But the similarities we share carry on to this day from what we find funny to our mannerisms, impressions of our dad, appreciation for growing up in a simple, but fulfilling way - and the value of family.

Over the past two years, the birthday boy has married both of his sisters.  By married, I mean performed the beautiful ceremonies and reading of the vows:)

Now, all three siblings - me, Courtney and Brady's wife (Brittney) - have babies on the way at the same time.

I cannot imagine a life without my brother and sister.  If I try to delete them from childhood memories and experiences, then those special moments that still make me smile no longer have significance.

But there are some brothers and sisters who shared lives together - only to be separated.  

For children who end up in foster care, this separation is because of neglect or abuse by the people they trust most, yet those adults rattled the lives and stability of their innocent children.

When I received notification in October of who I would be featuring for November's "The New Family Tree" adoption story on KPLC-TV, my heart sank.  For the first time since I started doing the segment, the Department of Children and Family Services wanted me to feature a sibling group.  Not two children, not three...four children, living in separate homes for more than two years, but hoping to be adopted together.

That's not all...they range in age from seven to 12 years old.  There are three boys and one girl, and they are African-American.  Should that matter?  Absolutely not.  But it does when it comes to adoption through foster care.

Age, race and gender are the biggest factors for people when choosing a child to be matched with in adoption.  That trifecta - combined with this being a large sibling group - concerned me that a feature segment with the four could lead to dashed hopes of being adopted together.

One child is a huge responsibility for someone to consider bringing into a home.  Two, three...four.  That's a very special person with a special calling!

For the past two years, the four siblings have been living in separate foster homes.  Fortunately, the older two were placed together and the younger two were placed together.  However, the four only see each other a few times a year.  That is missed birthdays, missed Christmases and Thanksgivings.  There are missed days, weeks and months to experience life together.

When I watched the four reunite for our filming day, I had to choke back the tears.  Dontae, the oldest and softest spoken sibling quietly commented on how tall his brother Leon had grown.  Then I watched Delores touch her youngest brother's face and ask if he has always had a specific mark near his eye.  Then they asked about school and who picked out their outfits for the day.

12-year-old Dontae

Nine-year-old Delores

Eight-year-old Leon

Seven-year-old Hakeem

As a reporter, you are always encouraged to dive as deeply as you can with the person you are interviewing.  Find the emotion.  Let the raw feelings show.  But there is something about interviewing these children in their most vulnerable moments that keeps me from going too deep.

Maybe I do not want to really hear the pain in their voices.  Maybe I do not want to think back to the last time they were all together in one home likely being a traumatic day where state workers came in to bring them to temporary homes.  Maybe it is that I do not want to know what it is really like to be away from the people I love the most and never took advantage of me: my siblings. 

I have been praying for these three brothers and one sister since I met them.  I have also prayed specifically for the mom and dad who would adopt them together.

But the downfall of a sibling group in foster care is that it is oftentimes just too much.  

Each child can be adopted individually.  Someone might just want a daughter, like Delores.  Someone might just want a young boy, like Hakeem.  Or maybe an adoptive parent is interested in a boy who wants to be a cowboy and loves country music, like Leon.  Then there could be someone who feels called to adopt an older child, like Dontae.

While the adoption of any of these children would be deemed a step in the right direction for the child's future to be more stable, I pray that the number of siblings in this group does not lead to them spending even more years in foster care.

I think about my brother and sister and how differently we might have turned out if we had been raised in different homes.  It is unimaginable.

There has to be a mom and dad out there willing to say, "Yes, a sibling group would be a big adjustment, but we have the love to share."  You will undoubtedly get it in return - multiplied by four:)


Click here to watch the KPLC-TV story featuring the four siblings.

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