ADOPTIVE PARENTS OF SIX SIBLINGS
Q&A with Jennifer & Peter Barnett
Tell us about your biological family first.
Peter: We have 4 biological children, ages 24, 22, 19, and 15. The oldest is in the Navy; the middle two are in college; and the youngest is in high school and at home with us.
When did you get the idea to adopt and how did you know you were ready?
Jennifer: When I was 18, I read the book, “A Child Called ‘It’,” by David Pelzer. It was one of those defining moments for me. I knew then that I wanted to adopt one day. When I married my husband, he felt the same way. We wanted to have a big family and give love to kids who needed it.
As a child, I was sad that I had just one brother. I complained to my parents that I wanted a big family, and they always told me I would have to make my own. My husband Peter was the opposite; he was one of seven kids. Throughout our marriage, even though we had our own biological children, we knew that someday we were going to adopt more children, because we knew the need was out there.
When my husband was in the military and later in his civilian job as an air traffic controller, we moved around the country, which made adopting difficult. We started the process to be certified for adoption a few times; even completing a home study in Ohio. As soon as the study was done, however, we relocated to Arkansas. With each move, we would have to start the process all over again, because each state has their own adoption rules.
Out of the nine states we have called home, Georgia has been our favorite. It was a more permanent move, and we could finally settle down to go through the whole adoption process. We were more than ready by then!
How did you decide to adopt a large sibling group?
Jennifer: When we were almost done with our home study, we were out to dinner one night. Peter was looking at one of those adoption websites with photo listings of the “available” kids to adopt. I kept telling him to stop looking at the website, because we had reached out to them in the past, and the children we had selected were not available for various reasons. I didn’t want to get our hopes up again.
Peter: We have always looked for a sibling set. Our goal was to keep kids together, because so many kids in the foster care system are split apart from their siblings. Many foster parents don’t have the space and time for more than one or two children. As they integrated into our family, we wanted our adopted children to have their siblings with them, to not be split apart. We thought a sibling set of three or four would be good, and we had space for them now that three of our four kids were out of the house.
Jennifer: While we were sitting at dinner that night, my husband shoved his phone in front of me and said, “I found them! They are the ones.” At first, I wouldn’t look at them, because I refused to get caught in that disappointment again, but he was persistent, and I gave in. I looked, and I saw what he saw. They were our missing pieces. The only thing that might be a little concerning was that there were six of them!
How did the Crossroads team help you through the process of fostering and adopting?
Jennifer: We selected Crossroads Foster Care & Adoption as our agency, because of the relationship with Christian City. I am so glad we did! We would have never been able to go through this process without them. Not only did they give us the support and knowledge we needed along the way, they became our friends and are now like family.
Once we found the kids, we immediately contacted Michaela Guthrie, the director at Crossroads Foster Care & Adoption. That started the year and a half process of fostering and finally being able to adopt the six siblings. They were two hours away, so we had long drives to pick them up and take them back home on the weekends. It seemed like we would just get the kids home and settled when we would have to turn around and take them back.
We have been very grateful that people donate to support the Crossroads program and Christian City. Thanks to some of those donations, our family has been able to go to Zoo Atlanta and Stone Mountain. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to do some of those things. Even taking ten people to a movie is something we save for. Tutors and services like dance classes are also a blessing.
We were amazed at what the kids had never experienced or didn’t know about. They had never been to a shopping mall or to a zoo. It has been a blessing to experience a lot of “firsts” for them. We have a long-term goal for Disney. Now that’s going to blow their minds!
Describe adoption day. What will you remember the most about that day?
Jennifer: The adoption was 3-1/2 hours away from our home, so we didn’t think anyone would be there with us. We thought it was just going to be us and the kids. We were really surprised when everyone from Crossroads showed up to support us. The kids’ primary foster parents were there. All the people from the Heart Gallery were there. The thing I remember most about adoption day was that the courtroom was full of people who loved on these children. It was amazing!
Tell us about the six siblings you have adopted.
Peter: The six siblings fit in so well with our biological family because the oldest adopted sibling is only one year younger than our youngest biological son. It was like they were meant to be with us, and they perfectly completed our family.
Jennifer: We adopted a sibling group of three boys and three girls. They are 14, 13, 11, 8, 7 and 6. They have suffered a lot of trauma and abuse and will be in counselling for many years. Despite that background, they are happy kids and are very loving.
Our 14-year-old son is a regular teenager who enjoys video games and riding his bike. He is slow to make friends, but when he opens up, he is the life of the party.
Our 13-year-old son is on the autism spectrum and is very smart. He loves playing with Legos and with his younger brother outdoors.
Our 11-year-old daughter is all about animals. She takes care of all the animals in the house. She wants to learn to do tumbling, so she can become a cheerleader. Everyone who meets her loves her; and she is the most outgoing, loving person I have met.
Our 8-year-old son is very shy, but he loves playing lacrosse and wants to try other sports. Pokémon is his favorite game to play with his brother and other siblings. The most fearless of the group, he will go on any ride or try anything new.
Our 7-year-old daughter is adventurous and always getting into something new. She loves to draw or do anything art related.
Our youngest daughter is 6 and likes to be babied. We don’t mind giving her lots of hugs and kisses.
Talk about some changes you have witnessed among the children since the adoption.
Peter: Before they went into the foster care system, they had been abused, neglected and were malnourished. They had no idea what it was like to live in a normal home and in normal society, because they had lived in the wilderness before being removed from their biological parents. The children were born in four different states, because their family constantly moved to avoid DFCS taking the kids into custody.
They were finally removed from their biological parents, and the six siblings were in four different foster homes before coming to live with us. Two of the boys had been placed in psychiatric facilities, and they were heavily medicated when they came to us. They were wild, because that was the only life they knew.
Because of the trauma they have experienced, the kids were having nightmares and other behavioral issues when they came to live with us. Just by giving them the love and care they need, and getting them the right treatment and getting medications adjusted, they have really grown since they have been in our home. They are now doing so much better and living a normal life.
Jennifer: Love heals. In just in the two years we have had our kids, they have come such a long way. Having love and attention and being together again has made all the difference.
You are now the parents of 10 children, with seven of them under 16! How do you do it?
Jennifer: We both work full time, have a 15-year-old biological child still at home, and our extended families live in Buffalo, NY, where Peter and I were both raised. When we inquired about adopting the six kids, the social worker was probably looking for a family where both parents didn’t work, didn’t have other kids in the house, had a lot of help, etc. We didn’t think they were going to consider us for this big sibling group.
Peter then wrote a long email explaining our lives – that I work from home a few days a week and both our jobs are flexible. He explained that we would have the support of Christian City, a community that has more than five decades of experience with children and trauma. We had houseparents we could go to if we needed advice, and emotional and spiritual help from the staff and chaplains. It’s a village that we count on and call our friends and family.
After his email, we got a call from the social worker the next day saying we were exactly what they were looking for and that the support of Christian City was what really convinced them to move forward with the adoption process. That support is exactly what allows us to do this successfully!
What advice do you have for a couple who may be considering adopting a large sibling group?
Jennifer: Be persistent and expect to put in the work. It’s not easy to be a parent, especially to kids with trauma, and many foster children have trauma. Join some Facebook groups before you decide to go through the process. Ask questions. If you do have the passion and determination to get past the hurdles and emotion to help these kids, please do it. They need you!
This was one of the most challenging things we have ever done. However, it’s one of the most rewarding too. That big family I always wanted, I finally found. Everyone always says, “Thank goodness those kids have you.” I say, “Thank goodness God’s plan let them be a part of our lives. We are the ones who are blessed.”