Family

The story behind the ‘Family Wanted’ plea of five Kansas siblings

Five Kansas siblings looking for an adoptive family have set off a burst of interest never before seen at the website promoting the children’s desire to stay together.

“This is a viral response ... and it’s pretty insane,” said Corey Lada of the Kansas Children’s Service League, which contracts with the state to run AdoptKSKids.org. “In 13-plus years of working here I’ve seen nothing like this. Nothing.”

A weekend “Family wanted” appeal in The Kansas City Star triggered a nationwide response that filled the voice mailbox of the children’s service league with hundreds of inquiries — as many as the system could hold — and clogged the email inbox with 1,500 responses.

Since the story posted on The Star’s website late Saturday, online readers have clicked on it more than 4 million times.

The article featured two sisters and three brothers, ages 2 to 11, identified by first names only. The oldest, Bradley, was described as “the music lover.” Middle child Layla is “already planning to save sick or injured animals when she grows up,” and the youngest, Olive, “loves to be cuddled” whenever she “slows down long enough.”

The story indicated the siblings hope to be adopted together. Lada said placement workers are striving to identify a family who will keep them in Kansas. “Currently they’re in separate homes” in foster care, Lada said.

He and the nonprofit working on the siblings’ case, St. Francis Community Services in south-central Kansas, declined to provide more information on the children’s situation.

The public response so overwhelmed the children’s service league, the siblings on Monday were removed from AdoptKSKids.org so its staff of five could begin addressing inquiries already made.

Lada said many of the people expressing interest are bound to be upset that their calls and email will be slow to elicit responses while staffers try to catch up.

“It’s a great crisis to have,” Lada said.

Prospective parents of any one child up for adoption must be prepared to deal with trauma in that youngster’s past, said Joni Hiatt, Kansas director of programs for FosterAdopt Connect, a nonprofit service provider not involved in the siblings’ placement.

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“Multiply that by five and that’s asking a lot” of an interested family, Hiatt said. “But that bond between siblings is the strongest thing they’ve got when parents are gone. My hope is that people expressing interest genuinely want to see these children kept together.”

Reader comments to the Star’s original story online exceeded 1,000 Monday afternoon.

“My husband and myself would LOVE to adopt ALL 5!!!,” wrote Teresa Vassos from Colorado. “We have plenty of room and live in a recreational community with fantastic schools!!!!”

Another wrote: “I wish I weren’t an old grandma. I would need at least a good strong 20 years or more for this beautiful family. God be with you children.”

Lada said out-of-state inquirers and others who may not qualify to adopt the siblings together were being redirected to a national website, AdoptUSKids.org, and to explore adoption opportunities in their home states.

From Knox County, Ill., Brittany and Stephen Fleming, parents of three children of their own, tried logging onto the Kansas adoption site but found it unresponsive. “It kept trying and trying and trying” to process their registration information, Brittany Fleming said. “It just wouldn’t respond.”

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Nibal Henderson of Overland Park awoke Monday to links to the siblings’ story on her Facebook wall from friends in Texas and Michigan. She was puzzled that none of her friends had ever before brought to her attention children featured in The Star’s weekly “Family Wanted” installment.

Though Henderson isn’t seeking to adopt, “it was interesting seeing all this roll out all day” on her social media sites, Henderson said. “But part of this didn’t set well with me.”

She noted the five featured siblings were all white, “like out of a Lands’ End ad.” Henderson said hard-to-adopt children of other races should be so lucky to stir such mass interest.

Kansas has about 1,200 children in state custody and seeking adoption.

In November 2014, reaction hit viral levels when The Star featured six siblings looking for an adoptive family, five of them white and a biracial oldest brother. Lada said those kids just recently found an adoptive home.

“The response this time is at least two or three times stronger” than when those siblings’ story raced around the web, he said. “These kids need no more publicity.”

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r

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