Jennifer Adkins has a full house.
Senatobia local Adkins and her husband are the parents of six children, three of whom came to the family from foster care. Adkins said she felt like God was calling them to foster children and eventually adopt three of them.
“We had prayed about which direction to go and there are so many different avenues of adopting and we really felt strongly that the Lord was leading us to adoption through the foster system,” Adkins said.
According to the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institution, more than 415,000 American children are living in the foster care system. This number has risen in recent years. The Coalition reports almost 108,000 of the children in foster care are eligible for adoption, but the average child waits four years to be adopted.
A 2012 study of Mississippi adoption showed 423 children were adopted out of foster care that year while more than 800 still waited.
Adkins said her family wanted to explore alternative options for growing their family.
“My oldest two children are biological … there’s 5-and-a-half years between my oldest and my second,” she said. “We didn’t anticipate it being that many years between them.”
Adkins said this age difference made the couple consider adoption, so she and her husband became licensed to adopt through the foster system. Their social worker told them about a child in need of a home, and Adkins said she couldn’t turn the opportunity down.
The Adkins fostered several children that ended up being reunited with their own families after their living situations improved.
The family’s third child Ana came to them after her family’s rights had been terminated.
The timing was perfect for the Adkins, and they adopted her.
Adkins said all three adoption cases were completely different. Ana didn’t move in with the Adkins until she was 16 months old. It took almost nine months for her adoption to be completed and she was 2 years old before she was officially adopted.
The Adkins family fostered their second adopted child, Jeremiah, before adopting him because he was not eligible for adoption.
Their third adopted child Corban moved in with the family at almost the same time Jeremiah did.
The longest the Adkins have fostered a child is 18 months but some children are reunited with their family after only two months. A child has to live with a family for a minimum of six months before the adoption can be legalized, however.
“In the back of my mind is, what if something happens,” Adkins said. “Three separate occasions now we have chosen to trust the Lord, not always necessarily trusting the system. Not because the system is a failure but just because there are so many ‘what ifs.’”
The Adkins said they treat every child they foster as one of their own. Adkins said it is nerve-wracking waiting to hear if one of their foster children will officially become part of their family. She said adoption’s permanency is relieving.
“We just have a complete relief. It is almost like we can begin from that day with permanency,” Adkins said. “My goal is to always make my kids think that the day they move in is the day permanency begins. In my heart, once adoption is final is the day permanency begins.”
All three of the adopted Adkins children are African-American, and the couple’s biological children are white. Adkins said she had no problem adopting children of another race because their close friends and families have been supportive from the beginning.
According to the 2012 study, a higher percentage of African-American children wait to be adopted than are adopted each year in Mississippi.
“There’s been some people that have not understood why we do what we do,” Adkins said. “We take that as their opinions and we continue on as a family.”
Chloe and Will Adkins, biological siblings, were young when their parents adopted their three new siblings. The Adkins’ youngest biological child Nora was not even born. Chloe can drive now and said she loves to pick the kids up from school. She and Will help out with the rest of the kids as much as possible. Adkins said all of her children have adapted well to their constantly changing sibling situation.
“We do have to talk through our emotions when children come and leave,” Adkins said. “Before a child comes, we always try our best to prepare. There’s an excitement among the kids when there’s someone new coming. A new brother or sister brings that excitement.”
The Adkins never set out saying they were going to adopt a certain number of kids. Adkins said she thought four children was a nice number, but now they have three boys and three girls.
“The more kids we have, people kind of start to question, okay what are y’all doing? When are you going to stop?” Adkins said. “The answer for when we will stop is when we feel like God is not calling us to parent any more children, that’s when we’ll stop.”