Crossroads

Jennifer & Peter Barnett

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!

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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.”

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Tyler and Veronica

CROSSROADS FOSTER PARENTS OF 3 SIBLINGS

Q&A with Tyler and Veronica – “We love these kids, and we’re just having fun every day!”

You are some of the first foster parents to have children placed in your home through Christian City’s new Crossroads Foster Care & Adoption Program. How did you decide to become foster parents in 2018 and how did you choose Crossroads?

Veronica: When we decided it was time to try to have children, we struggled with infertility for a while. We tried fertility treatments and went on that path for a couple of years, and it just wasn’t happening. So, we just started praying. We thought maybe having a family was an “us” goal and not God’s goal. Then we decided…

…we would just let it go and give it to God; we didn’t make another appointment with the fertility doctor.

Around that time, I saw an article in the newspaper about Michaela and the new Christian City Crossroads Foster Care & Adoption Program. I knew about Christian City because some of my cousins lived in group homes. I felt like I knew their house parents because they would talk about them all the time…

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…during the summer when we all would get together. They would have all these stories to tell about things they were getting to do and places they had been. I was 7 or 8 years old, and my cousins seemed to me to have this fabulous life.

How do you get started in the foster parenting process? What’s the first step?

Veronica: After reading the article about Crossroads, we contacted Michaela to let her know we felt like this was something we needed to learn more about.

Tyler: Then we did an informational sit down with Michaela, and decided that night we would start the process.

You didn’t set out to foster a sibling group. How did that come about?

Tyler: It was definitely an instant family. The day we got the call was a Friday afternoon in October. I was at work. Michaela called to tell us about three siblings who needed to be placed in a home. When she told me the ages, I was like “Wow!” We had prepared two rooms with twin beds in case we fostered two children. When she said they were 6 months, a year, and 2 years old, I said, “I’ve got to call Veronica.” I thought, “I’m not signing up for this until she says so!” I called her right away and gave her the rundown.

Veronica: Something had to happen that day. At that moment, I just started praying: “Lord, is this going to happen?” In a couple of hours of that prayer, those three little children were in our home. We were still assembling baby beds from Walmart when they arrived. Tierra and Michaela pulled up first and the DFCS caseworker and the children were right behind them. They did the room inspection, and that was it. We were fully committed, and they were staying the night.

That must have been a memorable weekend! What happened next?

Veronica: We were trying to get a daycare set up so that we could go to work the following Monday. That Saturday, we put everybody in the car and said, “We’re going to go look at daycares.” We alternated days off from work that first week, and my sister came in from out of town to help. By Friday, everything was rolling smoothly and we had a daycare lined up for the following Monday.

Tell us about your three foster children.

Veronica: We have a little girl who’s the youngest; we will celebrate her first birthday next month. The middle child is a boy; he’ll be two next Tuesday. The oldest will be three years old in two months. We celebrate a birthday this Saturday, another one in a month, and one a month after that! We get asked if the boys are twins because they’re close in size. They’re right there together. It’s great!

What does a regular day look like in your home now that you have three children under the age of three?

Veronica: The day doesn’t come without challenges. We both work full time, and the kids are in daycare. They get sick more often because of daycare, but we’re making it work. They’re thriving and growing so much. They’re speaking. Their language has developed so much! When we first got the boys last fall, they called everybody “momma.” They had no language. Every single adult was called momma.

Tyler: Now we’re giving them goals and being proud of them when they achieve it. Every morning, I have them help me get the baby’s stuff ready for daycare: “Who’s going to carry the milk today? Who’s going to bring in the food?” They love those tasks.

Veronica: They love structure because they know what’s coming – like knowing socks go on before shoes. They like to be able to run their day. We wake up in the morning and get changed to fresh diapers, breakfast time, teeth-brushing time, and school time. They crave that structure and love it.

Have you had the resources needed to help you adjust to instantly becoming parents of three young children?

Veronica: Tierra and Michaela with Crossroads will help in any way and they’re always there for us. And we have my dad. We have a family here. People at work have been very supportive, too. Everybody is a phone call away.

Tyler: It takes our village for sure. When we first got the kids, Michaela and Tierra helped with the checklist for what we would need – like juice, sippy cups and all the other things you need for young children. We can’t say enough about how helpful they have been through the process.

Did the Crossroads training prepare you for foster parenting?

Tyler: IMPACT is a 24-hour training program. We’d meet up after work, swing through a drive-thru and go to Christian City from 4:30 until about 7 or 8 pm. It took us a month or so to complete the training.

Veronica: And we would learn. The training was very, very good. Since I am a teacher, I do a lot of training and go to a lot of conferences. But, it was totally different. The activities and things we worked through made us analyze what our life would be like as foster parents. I thought it would be more like basic facts and how to handle children with disabilities. But, it was so much more than that. It was self-reflective and eye-opening.

Tyler: It was about why you’re doing it; the reasons you’re doing this; making sure it’s not just about one reason but a bunch. You’re not only trying to build a family, but also answering a calling from God.

Veronica: It was awesome. We left those nights just going, “Wow, that was so powerful!” Given my experience with training, I didn’t expect us to be so emotionally invested in learning about ourselves through this whole process. It was so good!

Tyler: We also took CPR training and first aid training.
Tell us about the changes you’ve seen in the children over the past 6 months?

Veronica: One reason the children were placed in care was homelessness, along with failure to thrive. The oldest child was developmentally delayed. He could not speak in sentences six months ago. It was one word – if you could understand that word. Now, it’s sentences. He’ll say, “Mommy, look at my yellow car.” It’s so rewarding to see changes every single day. We’re catching up!

Tyler: When they came into our care, the middle child didn’t want to walk, because he preferred to be carried. He was 18 months old, so he should have been walking. He should have been able to stop, bend down and get something. That was one of the milestones at that age, and he was nowhere near that. The younger brother’s language has gotten much, much better, too. Honestly, he’ll say words now that I don’t think his big brother knows yet.

How do you balance the care of three small children along with your full time jobs?

Veronica: Yes, the kids have many needs, and both of us have full-time jobs, and it is about balancing. As a teacher, I’ve always been committed to my job. In fact, I’ve allowed it to define me because it’s my passion. I just pour everything I’ve got into it. I’ve been super devoted and knew it was going to be a change there.
I thought it would be more of a struggle, but I try to get work done at work. It’s a different way of life we’ve moved into, but it just came naturally. Like most working parents, you just kind of figure it out. It comes together.

Tyler: On my way to work, I’ll swing by daycare and drop off the kids. And I pick them up on the way home. Veronica and I get home around the same time to handle dinner, baths, books, and bedtime together.
Since the goal of the case plan is to reunify these siblings with their biological parents, tell us how you’re helping to bring this family back together.

Veronica: We didn’t initially have contact with the biological parents. The kids had a supervised visit scheduled where they would see their parents once a week. As of now, they have unsupervised visits one weekend day. They will go for a full day on Saturday or a full day on Sunday at their parents’ home. We meet the parents, and the kids go with them. Then we meet back up and bring them back to our home.

Tyler: We’ve really tried to team up with the parents so that they don’t miss seeing the kids and spending time with them. And things are different from a few months ago. When we all go to dinner with the parents now, it’s not chaotic like in the past. The kids no longer toss food or paper on the floor. They even offer to put the paper in the trash.

Veronica: We meet up with the parents and talk about how things are going for them, ask if there’s anything we can do, or just try to help them with resources and the things they still need to work through on their case plan. We speak to the kids’ parents on an almost daily basis and give updates on the kids and how they’re doing. I feel like if I just send them those updates and keep them in the loop, they really do appreciate it.

Now that you’ve become foster parents, do you think you made the right choice?

Veronica: We are sure that this is God’s plan. What the future looks like, we don’t know. But, we love these kids, and we’re just having fun every day. We’re so much happier. We feel like we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to do.

Tyler: We’ve adapted to change. Instead of going to do something for us on the weekend, we’ll go to the zoo, or the aquarium, or go camping. It’s been fun. It’s all those things we thought and knew that parenting would be and the things we wanted to get to do and have in our lives, plus some, and with all the greatness of three at one time.

Veronica: We’ve never been overwhelmed. Now, we’ve had plenty to do and a lot on our plates, but we’ve never been overwhelmed. It’s been so great. For us, this has been seamless; everything has gone smoothly.

Tyler: We know we’re blessed because we couldn’t ask for greater people to be in these kids’ lives and in our lives to help us all along the way.

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