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This article was published 26/12/2014 (941 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SoUTH OF STEINBACH -- After registering to adopt eight years ago and fostering many children in the meantime, Kelly and Mel Loeppky gave up on ever adopting kids of their own. That was before this summer when they were introduced to three siblings in care. It was love at first sight.
"They're awesome kids!" said Kelly. The nurse said she and Mel married later in life and wanted to adopt a sibling group. The couple, who live in the country south of Steinbach, fostered many kids during the years -- including two teenage girls who are part of the family but legally can't be adopted. The Loeppkys figured adoption just wasn't in their cards.
Then the General Child and Family Services Authority suggested they might be a good match for a 12-year-old girl and her brothers, nine and four, who'd had a rough start.
"We said no," Kelly said Tuesday. She and Mel were concerned about the children's troubled past and if they could manage. Their social worker, Frances Mitchell, and Laura Wilson, CFS's full-time adoption recruiter for older foster kids, had got to know the children. They were kind, well-mannered and adorable and they convinced the couple to consider the siblings.
"Who wouldn't want to adopt them?" Wilson recalled.
She arranged for the couple to observe the kids through a two-way mirror at a pizza party with their therapist and Wilson. Kelly and Mel could see the kids, but the kids couldn't see that prospective parents were checking them out.
"They were different from what we thought based on the paperwork," said Mel. A child's CFS biography describes all the "hard things" but not the "awesomeness," said Kelly.
"They played so well together." Katie, 12, looked out for her younger brothers, nine-year-old Hunter and four-year-old Benji, while she listened to music and polished her nails.
After observing the children for about 90 minutes, they knew they belonged together as a family, said Mel. Kelly, an avid scrapbooker, prepared albums for each of the children, with photos of her and Mel, their foster daughters and close relatives and their pets. It showed activities they enjoy, including boating and riding a quad, and their home and rooms, inviting the children to join their family.
Katie said she was thrilled to see a photo of Kelly with purple streaks in her hair. "I liked the colour," said the tween, who likes makeup and painting her nails. "I thought she'd be fun."
At that time, the kids were in their fourth foster placement and, for the first time, were separated. The two boys were in one home and their sister in another.
The social workers arranged for Katie to join her brothers at their foster home to meet their adoptive parents for the first time.
When Mel and Kelly arrived, Benji was more than ready for them.
"When we drove up, we could see Benji in the dining room and we could hear him yelling 'Mommy and Daddy are here!' over and over," said Mel.
"Katie and Hunter were a little more reserved," Kelly said.
They gave each of the children quilts for their new home, which they moved into before the start of school in September. When the adoption was finalized in November, they had a ceremony and a big party with a slab cake decorated with the kids' favourite things -- Lego, toy race cars and bottles of nail polish.
"They're nice," said Katie, who appreciates the kindness of her parents and having a "forever family." Hunter loves having a dad, and looks for him as soon as he gets home from school. The older kids are learning to drive the quad -- always wearing helmets, says their mom, who is a part-time nurse.
It's not all fun and games, though, said Hunter. "We have chores."
Hunter said he has to feed and water their border collies, make his bed, clean his room and help clear the table after meals. "I do not like doing chores, but I love playing with the dogs."
They get an allowance, and spent much of it on a recent family trip to Grand Forks. Hunter bought a Spiderman glove with a little spray can attachment that shoots webs. The three kids spent most of their time in the hotel pool.
The family shared their story with the hope it might encourage other people to consider fostering and adopting older kids, said Kelly.
"Keep an open mind."
And be patient. The eight years they spent fostering and learning about parenting laid the foundation for the family they have today.
"It can be busy," said Mel, who has a home-based business and cares for Benji when Kelly is at work. Like the time Benji had an accident in his pants minutes before a customer was expected to arrive and had to be bathed and changed.
"You have to do a little juggling."
Mel, who comes from a family with nine siblings, said they have "ground rules" -- and telling the truth is No. 1.
"Respect and honesty are our core values," said Kelly, who was one of five kids and spent some time growing up in foster care.
"I have some understanding of where these kids are coming from."