It was a winter day in New Hampshire when a neighbor spotted two-year old Melissa out in her front yard wearing little more than a diaper. The sighting prompted a call to child welfare services and soon an investigation into the lives of Melissa and her two brothers: Connor, age 5, and Albert, 3.
The siblings were removed from their home and, soon after, CASA volunteer Steve Gendall was appointed to their case. He and others worked intensively with the children’s mother, trying to help her develop the skills necessary to be a good mother to her children, while seeking alternatives for the children should their efforts fail.
Enter Kathy and Alan Bunker.
Kathy and Alan were strongly considering adopting two children through a foster-to-adopt program. They decided that providing respite foster care would be a wise way to test the waters of parenthood. They began providing short-term care for Connor, who was struggling in the children’s first foster home. He thrived in their care. Before long, the Bunkers were providing periodic care for all three of the siblings, taking them into their home for weekends or longer.
With Gendall’s help, the Bunkers began to imagine that the situation could be more than temporary.
“Steve knew the children—he had seen them with their mom and in the other foster home. He helped us understand their challenges—and see their strengths,” says Kathy. “Very importantly, he provided the perspective we needed when things were not going well. We were not messing this up! These kids had been through a lot, it was just going to take time.”
While the nascent Bunker family developed, Gendall continued to visit with the children, to ensure that they were getting the services they needed—including counseling, tutoring, medical attention.
After nearly one year, it became apparent to everyone that the children’s mother was not going to succeed in regaining custody of her children. As the case progressed from reunification with the mother to relinquishment of her parental rights, the Bunkers began to consider adopting all three children.
“After lots of due diligence, prayer, discussion—and some tears—we made the decision to adopt Connor, Albert and Melissa. We felt strongly that they had to remain together. Having each other had been the one consistent thing in their lives,” Kathy and Alan agreed.
Committing to adoption was a critical step for the Bunkers, but not the last in the process. Gendall continued to work with the children, other family members and the court for nearly two years before the adoption was finalized in November.
When asked what the best present will be this Christmas, Kathy and Alan agree that they are not looking forward to anything extravagant.
“The best gifts this holiday season are the simple ones. It’s when Melissa calls me ‘Mommy.’ It’s watching them fall asleep during a bedtime story. It’s laughing at a little family joke that nobody else would understand. It’s the little things that make us realize we have become a family.”
Thank you to CASA of New Hampshire and the Bunker family for sharing this story.