One day in March 2017, Jeff and Toni Whaley came upon a video about five siblings from Kansas who wanted to be adopted together.
The couple, who have no children but served as foster parents for the past several years, were originally thinking of adopting up to three youngsters. But they fell in love with the siblings.
The Whaleys applied for adoption soon after they saw the state-produced video, days before a story by The Star about the children went viral and the siblings became known as the “Fab Five.”
Wednesday afternoon, in a Johnson County courtroom, the Whaleys officially became the parents of (from youngest to oldest): Olive, Landon, Layla, Preston and Bradley, ages 3 to 12.
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“We feel blessed,” Jeff Whaley said.
The couple said they were fortunate to apply for adoption before inquiries came in from around the globe.
Until Wednesday’s court proceeding, the state strictly guarded the siblings’ background and even where they were living. Still, the few details about their story seemed to captivate: Big brother Bradley was “the music lover,” middle child Layla “is already planning to save sick or injured animals when she grows up,” Olive “loves to be cuddled.”
It turns out that since August, the famous set had been living quietly together with the Whaleys less than 50 miles from Kansas City in Douglas County.
The five have feasted from their family’s garden, gotten to know one grandfather’s pet chicken and taken hay rides with their other set of grandparents.
“They’re all such nice kids,” said Grandpa Kenneth Whaley. “I just love them to pieces.”
The Kansas Department for Children and Families, which oversaw the children’s placement, strove from the start to keep them together in their home state. They had been living in separate foster homes in central Kansas — the girls at one place and boys in another.
Spotlighted in The Star’s weekly “Family Wanted” feature, the siblings’ story drew some 7 million online readers and thousands of offers to adopt from as far away as Ireland and New Zealand.
State officials have said interest in the Fab Five helped draw families to other children in need of adoption. The family invited The Star to Wednesday’s proceedings to promote the benefits of adoption. About 20 friends and relatives also attended.
Johnson County District Judge Kathleen Sloan presided over the ceremony. Earlier this year, Sloan legalized the adoption of four siblings, ages 11 to 17, to Eric and Phyllis Watson of Gardner.
“There is nothing better than an adoption, in part because you came into this courtroom happy and I get to let you leave happy,” Sloan said.
Later, while the judge escorted the young Whaleys to a back room to pick out toys, she noted the rarity of large sets of siblings being able to find loving homes and stay together.
“It’s been a long, long time since I’ve done five,” she said.
After the proceeding, little Layla gushed with praise for Sloan.
“That was amazing,” she said. “The judge was so nice.”
Kansas City lawyer Gene Balloun provided pro-bono assistance to the Whaleys, as he has done for more than 1,000 other local adoption cases. His law firm, Shook Hardy & Bacon, administers the state-funded Kansas Foster Children Adoption and Scholarship Program, which provides college tuition grants to people formerly in the foster-care system.
“When these five children reach college age, they’ll qualify for the help,” said Balloun, himself a foster parent to 29 children going back decades.
“They are very happy,” Jeff Whaley said. “They’ve been through some pain, but they’ve adjusted well to having some positive role models” among Whaley’s family and the foster parents who previously cared for the children.
Nine-year-old Layla, the chattiest one, said: “It was really, really important that we stay together.”
As part of the state’s vetting of potential parents, Jeff and Toni Whaley put together a scrapbook of their story and photos of their pets that appealed to the children. “They did have a voice in this process,” said Toni Whaley. Son Preston (“sort of the ringleader,” she said) led the discussions.
Jeff Whaley said he hopes they can continue to grow up away from attention.
“I want them to be kids and not live on some edge of stardom,” he said.
Star intern Conner Mitchell contributed to this story.