SPECIAL REPORT: Forever Family

SPECIAL REPORT: Forever Family

COLUMBUS, GA WTVM) - It's been a little less than a year since News Leader 9 spent a day at the playground with the Davis family; a lovely morning to meet the whole gang: mom Kelli, dad Jimmy, and five newly adopted siblings, Maddie, Max, Ellie, Easton, and Anna.

We sat down for another conversation with the parents and asked what inspired the two, to bring five kids into their home, now that both are in their 40s.

"We had already experienced lots of pregnancy losses," Kelli said.  "I was just to the point where I was like, 'I don't want it to be a temporary thing.'"

"During our whole process of trying to have children," Jimmy said, "a lot of people that we were acquainted with said, 'Hey, why don't you adopt?'"

"We knew right away that we just wanted a forever home" Kelli replied, "and we just wanted children and we wanted to be a mom and dad."

At that moment, the Davis's said they knew exactly where they would find their future kids.

"We wanted to go through the state of Georgia," Kelli said. "Go through foster care, adoption, go through the whole process."

The topic of adoption has recently been in the minds of Georgia lawmakers. Governor Nathan Deal put pen to paper and approved comprehensive changes to the state's adoption system.

Representatives argued for months that these changes would help streamline the process.

After Jimmy and Kelli did their research, they reached out to Bethany Christian Services, a faith-based adoption and foster agency with an office in Columbus.

News Leader 9 talked to Kathryn Ricks, the caseworker who guided the Davis' throughout the whole process of finding a child (or children) already listed in the Department of Family and Children Service's system.

We asked Ricks what potential parents should do to start the adoption process. She said the first thing the Davis's, and others, have to do, is take 24 hours of the IMPACT course as mandated by Georgia Law.

"That class," Ricks said, "informs them of the type of children we have in care."

Next, comes what's called a "Home Study" packet. There's a number of items that have to be checked off the list.

First, there's the background check for anyone over 18, second, a drug test, then a check with Child Protective Services to make sure the adults have no prior incidents.

Then, Ricks said, parents like Jimmy and Kelli fill out their own self-study.

"It'll tell us about who they are, their motivation for wanting to foster or adopt," she said.

This reflection, Ricks said, also lets parents describe their approach to parenting a potential child.

"They give us the parental capacity, what they're comfortable parenting," Ricks said.

"We try to make the match based off of the needs of our children and what our families can provide."

Once case workers find a possible match, parents can green light a meeting with DFCS, and set up what's known as a pre-placement visit. For the Davis's, that meant driving up north to Dalton, GA, but not before doing a little extra homework.

"Kelli had to make a photo album, little 3x5 for all five kids," Jimmy said. The album contained pictures of them together, their pets, and Kelli's mom.

"As soon as the kids walked in," Jimmy said, "they ran up to her because they already knew who she was and gave her a hug."

After six weeks of visits, the pair knew this was the perfect fit for them.

While DFCS and Bethany employees still checked in on the kids each month for 6 months, there were only a few things left to do for the couple to make it official.

Ricks said the couple would meet with their caseworkers and employees from DFCS.

DFCS then released the child for adoption, which allows a family to file a petition for adoption.

"Then we'll go to an attorney's office and then the attorney gets it put on the docket," Ricks said, "and then that's finalization."

When it comes to going through all the paperwork, Jimmy said it's worth it.

That's what could ensure that boy or girl find a forever home, instead of constantly moving from house to house.

"Most of the kids that are in the system have been through a lot," Jimmy said.

"All the paperwork that we endured, anybody in the future who will adopt - it's necessary. So that way, it's not a constant problem for the children."

We also asked the Davis's if they ever felt overwhelmed or distressed throughout the adoption process.

The one time they ever felt it, was when they were in Atlanta for a class.

At this session, caseworkers from all 159 counties in Georgia handed them dozens of short biographies with their foster kids' stories.

"I could help these two. I can help these three," Jimmy said.

"You want to try and help as many as you can, but at the same time, you can't."

"There's just such a need," Kelli said, "and there are children out there."

Statistics show in 2016 Georgia had nearly 11,000 kids in foster care. That number in Muscogee County last stood as more than 400 foster children. Advocates across Columbus are now asking willing families to open their doors.

"There's a call out there to have more foster and adoptive families in our local area, Ricks said. "Even the local judges are pushing that we have more beds in Muscogee County."

The Davis family hopes their example will inspire others to share their love with children searching for a forever family.

"If you really want to adopt, do it. You'll love it," they said. "We love our family."

Jimmy and Kelli also said most people they meet tell them the kids are lucky to have them as parents. They believe they're lucky to have the children in their lives.

In looking at the recent changes in Georgia House Bill 159, lawmakers have cut the length of time a birth mother can ask for her baby back and allowing adoptive parents to help a birth mother with certain living expenses in private adoptions.

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