Kansas adoption workers call the siblings the Fab Five.
Ages 2 to 11 when they were featured in The Star’s weekly “Family Wanted” installment almost a year ago, the fair-haired bunch went viral on social media and triggered a never-before-seen response from inquiring households.
The three brothers and two sisters wanted to stay together. And prospects for that look good, numerous sources tell The Star, though the group adoption has yet to be finalized.
Officials recently placed the children with a family for what could be several months before a judge rules the adoption complete.
Citing confidentiality rules, a Kansas Department of Children and Family Services official declined to identify the prospective parents or say where their home is located.
“We want to make sure this is done right,” said spokeswoman Theresa Freed.
Last March, within three days of the siblings being featured in The Star, their story was read more than 6 million times online and thousands of requests for information flooded the state’s Adopt Kansas Kids website, causing the site to crash.
Given the enormous interest in the children, why has it taken so long for child welfare authorities to find a permanent home for the Fab Five: (from oldest to youngest) Bradley, Preston, Layla, Landon and Olive?
“I’m beginning to wonder if they’re even real,” said Charles Jackson of Princeton, Ky., who last month told The Star that his calls and e-mails to Kansas adoption workers have not been returned.
He added: “The state of Kansas needs to give people peace as to whether those kids were adopted or not.”
Yes, the kids are real, said state DCFS representatives and others familiar with the case. And the process of placing the siblings together in a permanent home is ongoing and may be approved by a judge around midyear.
Laws protecting juvenile privacy prevent adoption workers from revealing much more, including the children’s last names and reasons behind their being placed in state custody in 2016.
But here are five reasons why sibling adoptions take time:
▪ The top priority of caseworkers in any adoption proceeding — that being “the best interests of the child” — is difficult enough when placing one youngster with a family. Placing five children is more than five times as complicated, said Rachel Marsh, executive director of public policy for Saint Francis Community Services.
Headquartered in Salina, Kan., Saint Francis is a nonprofit handling the Fab Five’s placement, though Marsh agreed to speak only to the general process of finding adoptive homes, not on these children in particular.
With two, three or five siblings hoping to stay together, there’s “an exponential factor” to the task of achieving the best outcome, Marsh said.
“We work very diligently to keep siblings together,” she said. “But each child in a family has different needs.... Some might need massive amounts of parental contact every day,” which can cut into attention required for other siblings.
In some cases, all siblings get along; in other cases, not so true. “Siblings need to be safe,” she said.
▪ Kansas adoption workers seek to keep adopted children in Kansas.
This goal ruled out thousands of households who expressed interest from as far away as Ireland and New Zealand.
Freed, of the DCFS, said caseworkers want to “minimize trauma” in children.
“Keeping them close to home connections is one way we try to do that,” she said.
In-state placements also ensure that children and their adoptive parents have access to continuing care and resources with which the state has contracts for future needs.
▪ To be profiled by news media in a “Family Wanted” story means that easier options have already been explored without success, said Lori Ross of the nonprofit FosterAdopt Connect. It works with adoptive and foster families in Missouri and Kansas.
Ross said children profiled in such stories tend not to be simple placements. Many have suffered severe abuse and have health challenges. Birth parents or close relatives — usually the first ones considered — have been ruled out as caretakers.
▪ The adoption process is arduous no matter how many siblings are involved.
Jenny Kutz, vice president of marketing for the private child-welfare agency KVC Kansas, said even the smoothest placements will take six to 12 months. The process begins with training classes for potential adoptive and foster families spanning 30 hours across 10 weeks.
Agencies then conduct background checks, fingerprint applicants and perform at least four home visits before families are cleared for taking in children. Inspectors look at square footage and available bed space. They even measure the spacing of bannister slats along staircases.
Adopting five requires a bigger house and enough food in the fridge. At least one parent likely will need to stay home.
▪ In adoptions, time itself can be an useful ally, said Marsh of Saint Francis. Especially when interested families are clamoring to adopt children quickly.
“That can be frustrating for everyone,” said Marsh. “We might be all in a room together and be tempted to say, ‘Let’s sign on this now and be done.’ ... Emotionally and psychologically, it might feel that right.”
But for all parties involved, it’s usually best go it slow. Social workers say the difference between six months, a year or 18 months, which the Fab Five are approaching, can mean the difference between added pain from a failed placement or a lifetime of family happiness.