When the system works, families are made whole

Statewide Adoption Match Meeting. 6-8 p.m. March 26, Hilton Atlanta Airport, 1031 Virginia Ave., Atlanta. To learn more about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, call 877-210-5437.

The Bradley family.

There is no shortage of news reports about children who’ve been beaten, abused and murdered while in the care of the state’s Division of Family and Children’s Services.

In 2013 alone, 180 children died while under state protection — an 18 percent increase from 2012.

Daniel Bradley or any one of his four siblings could’ve been one of them. But they are an example of one of those times when the system got it right.

That occurred to me as I watched the Bradley children and their adoptive parents, John and Tamera, thank the men, women and agencies that helped them become a family.

Last month, five years after John and Tamera adopted the siblings, they invited the people they refer to as "their village" — friends, family, babysitters, donors, their pastor, people from Families First and DFCS — to the GNLD Wellness Center in Decatur. John Bradley stepped to the microphone to explain why.

He and Tamera and the kids – Ryan, Daniel, Jordan, Brandon and Mercedes, the only girl in the bunch — wanted to “love on” them, to let them know how special they are.

“I believe in giving people their flowers when they can smell them, pat them on the back when they can feel it,” John said. “You’re all special to us and what you did really mattered. All that love you showed, we want to send it back to the community and be as loving to others as you have been.”

The last time I saw John and Tamera and the kids, it was November 2009, just days before Thanksgiving. They were being ushered through the Romae T. Powell Juvenile Center in Atlanta, awestruck by the swirl of media there to record their adoption of five siblings.

Adoption proceedings are typically private but this one was made public to both recognize National Adoption Day and raise awareness about the thousands of children living in foster care.

John Bradley had always wanted five children, but the couple was never able to conceive. Tamera had a grown son and daughter in college when the empty-nesters decided to become foster parents.

In 2005 the couple completed the requisite training and the next year got the call they’d been waiting for.

Families First had two boys who needed a home. Then the couple learned there were two more siblings. Could they take them, too?

That night Ryan, Brandon, Jordan and Mercedes arrived. All of the boys had been badly beaten. The Bradleys would soon learn there was a fifth sibling, 3-year-old Daniel. It was Daniel who bore the brunt of their mother's boyfriend's wrath. He was in the hospital clinging to life. No one expected him to make it.

But he did. They all did.

A week later, the tubes keeping little Daniel alive were all gone. The following week Daniel could walk with assistance. And a week after that he was running in his hospital playroom.

The adoption proceedings felt like winning the Super Bowl, John Bradley said.

Watching them last month, I got the feeling this moment felt like that, too — only better.

These were their kids, the Bradley bunch, and they had been for five years.

Watching them I couldn’t help but marvel at the peace emanating from their sweet spirits, but then these were John and Tamera’s children now, mirroring what had been poured into them since they had been rescued from their violent past. Ryan, 19, recently got his first job at Kroger. Brandon, 18, is an honor student at Miller Grove High School who can run as fast as the wind. Mercedes, 17, plays volleyball and soccer; she loves to cook, sing in the church choir and hopes to become a military nurse one day. Jordan, 15, is the family comedian. He’s smart and plans to join the Army and become a lawyer. Daniel, 12, sings in church choir, too, plays tenor sax and the piano.

“When God blessed us with these five children, we fell in love with them,” Tamera Bradley said. “We’re so thankful he chose us to take care of them.”

At any given time there are 250 kids in DFCS' care available for adoption. In 2013, the agency finalized 1,017 adoptions. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that any of them have returned to give thanks, at least publicly.

It's not unusual for parents to send notes of thanks and share pictures after adoptions, said Kim Anderson, CEO of Families First and one of the Bradleys' honorees. But in the six years since she joined the organization, no one had ever offered such a public thank you.

Watching the Bradleys all these years later, I couldn’t help but remember the story of the 10 lepers in the 17th chapter of Luke. When Jesus healed them, Scripture says, only one of them returned to say thanks. Just one.

The Bradleys don’t intend to adopt again, but they aren’t finished helping children whenever and however they can. That’s why they left time in their program for Anderson to make her pitch for foster care.

“Each one of you has the capacity to do what the Bradleys have done,” Anderson said.

A few days later, I chatted with Anderson and she downplayed her role in the Bradleys' story, saying she hadn't done anything "very big," that none of them had.

“But all of us did something transformative together,” she said. “We touched those five children in a way that will not only impact them but their children’s children.”


Gracie Bonds Staples is an award-winning journalist whose column, This Life, appears on Thursdays, Saturdays and alternate Sundays.