It was all news to Raymond, the 9-year-old.
“What?” he asked. “We’re famous?”
His brothers and sisters gathered close as Raymond grasped an adoption case worker’s smartphone. Arms around each other, eyes fixed on the tiny screen, they watched for the first time a Kansas City TV clip from last week about the siblings’ hopes to grow up together.
They are six foster children, ages 4 to 14, looking for permanent parents to provide them one loving home.
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The Kansas City Star last Sunday featured the six – Lynzee, Taylor, Tyson, Raymond, Ally and the oldest, Christian – in its weekly “Family Wanted” item on Page A-4, as well as online. The article went viral (“Ally, 10, loves getting her hair done … Tyson, 8, loves being read to and being rocked”), and for the next five days it was among the top five trending stories on the Star’s digital channels, with nearly 20,000 page views.
The explosion in interest in the siblings of Wichita speaks to social media’s power to spread word of large sets of kids who otherwise might be impossible to place under one roof.
A video of the siblings originally posted a month ago on the Adopt Kansas Kids website has drawn more than 50,000 views through various Facebook postings and Twitter links.
“This past week it’s been super impressive,” said Corey Lada of the Kansas Children’s Service League, which contracts with the state to run the adoptkskids.org site.
The six have gone through a lot already and still face a long process ahead.
For now, eighth-grader Christian lives almost 100 miles from the five other siblings, who until this summer were divided among two foster homes themselves.
Christian writes them letters that he delivers in plastic page protectors when visiting his siblings in the Wichita area.
“Ally, Taylor, Lynzee – you guys are the best sisters,” Christian recently wrote with colored markers. “I love you Raymond and Tyson.”
Last week all six gathered at a Wichita strip mall housing the sprawling offices of St. Francis Community Services, which is working to find adoptive parents for 1,200 children presently in state custody.
The siblings are all together a couple of times a month, but last week social workers gathered them at the Star’s request. They spent two hours playing cards – Christian had taught them the rules – and taking pictures of each other.
“Christian makes sure the girls have their jackets zipped up and the boys have their shoes tied,” said case worker Sara Stieben. “It helps him so much to fill the big-brother role, to be a leader.”
When time came for Christian to leave, the five others together yelled: “Bye, Christian, we love you.”
Then those five left with the foster mother whose Wichita-area residence doesn’t have bedroom space for all six, social workers said. Having cared for brothers Raymond and Tyson since 2011, she was thankful to be able in June to squeeze in their sisters from another foster home.
“We’re going to need a big house,” said fifth-grader Ally. “Whoever adopts us, they’ll need patience. Some of us aren’t always very good with our behavior, but we’re working at it.”
Among the flood of calls coming into St. Francis adoption recruiter Brenda Stewart are many from people just curious: What are the siblings’ last names? What became of their biological parents? Where do they live so I might mail them gifts?
Confidentiality rules and the juveniles’ privacy rights prevent her from answering such questions. The family background is “traumatic,” Stewart allows. What’s important is their future, which she says will require finding extraordinary parents who can commit to six for a lifetime.
“Therapeutically, it’s the best practice for children to stay with their siblings,” Stewart said. “With sibling sets this large, we’re looking for people who know how to cook in bulk, who buy in bulk, who really do well at multi-tasking.”
On top of that, she said, they’ll need to know the complex set of challenges that come with adopting just one child familiar with abuse or neglect.
In Kansas, the adoption process begins with 10 weeks of training for prospective parents, usually in three-hour group courses. Home studies and background checks are performed, fingerprints processed, character references reviewed, income and square footage considered.
Even if a qualified household expresses interest next week, and some already have, six months to a year may pass before the state determines the best match and finalizes an adoption.
Working in favor of Christian and his siblings is an expansive network of adoptive parents and foster families who have posted on Facebook, shared links and re-tweeted the hope that the kids will stay together.
That network includes Heather Liebbrandt of Cheyenne County.
“We’re starting to see social media as a huge opportunity to promote these large sibling groups that are so hard to place,” she said.
Unable to bear children, Liebbrandt and her husband, Chris, adopted a set of seven brothers, ages 2 to 14, in 2007.
“God had a whole different plan for us,” says Liebbrandt, 35, who reports all seven are doing well. “In some ways I think it’s an easier process to adopt sets of siblings because they already have that bond with each other. They’re more ready to attach (to adoptive parents) because they see we love all their siblings.”
In the past decade Jonathan and Allison Schumm of suburban Topeka have adopted two sets of five siblings each to live with the couple’s four birth children.
“We had to modify our house” to include a sixth bedroom, said Jonathan Schumm, who sells life insurance while Allison manages the home front. Their neighbors, their church and others have written to the state that the Schumms are up to the task in their desire to adopt yet another sibling related to the last set they adopted.
Social worker Stieben said community backup is vital when placing large sets of siblings into permanent homes. “A support network – from schools, a faith community, extended family members – that’s at the top of my list,” she said.
In a large meeting room outside the agency where Stieben works, 4-year-old Lynzee, the youngest of the six, sat quiet and content with a Tootsie Pop.
Older sister Ally did a few cartwheels. Quick-witted Taylor, 6, curled up to an inquiring Star reporter and beamed, “Are we going on the news?”
Tyson skipped along the walls, reading aloud the captions on a dozen posters. Raymond played Subway Surfer on a Kindle. And Christian, a soft-spoken teen, explained one benefit of staying together.
“When I need to go to college, I can ask my brothers and sisters, ‘Can you loan me some money?’ he said. “And later I can do the same for them.”
Ally: “I have to pay for your college?”
The social workers laughed.
“What’s so great to see with these six,” said Stieben, who had never before handled a sibling set so large, “is they’re confident they’re going to be ending up together.
“They’re not giving up.”
To reach Rick Montgomery, call 816-234-4410 or send email to email@example.com.