- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Tears swelled in Callan Romine’s eyes the first time he met his adopted daughter Cayla.

She was a foster child at that time, and the first time a child meets its new foster family there’s always some uncertainty.

Cayla, then 18 months old, removed any doubts when she climbed into Callan’s lap and gave him a warm hug.

“It got me a little teary eyed,” Callan recalls more than two years later. The connection was instant.

The Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/1OAQn5o ) reports that Callan and his wife Caleigh are an open foster and adoptive home. After a tumultuous 18 months fostering Cayla and her younger sister Camille, they adopted the two little girls last December.

Now, the Romines are in the process of adopting a 15-year-old. Over the last three years, more than 20 foster kids have come through their home.

Passion oozes out of Caleigh’s voice as she discusses caring for children who have been disadvantaged from birth. She and Callan love each child in their home as their own, but they’ve also had to learn how to let children go.

“It’s sad to see them go,” Caleigh said. “I’ll cry, yes, but I’m so much more happy for that child. I’ve never seen a kid leave our home and go to a worse situation.”

The Romines are doing everything in their power to fill a desperate need. Arkansas has 4,583 children in foster care, but only 3,035 beds are available. Several local counties are especially starved for foster families. Poinsett County has 88 kids in the foster system, but there are only seven available beds. Greene County has 96 beds but 154 foster children.

Callan and Caleigh started exploring foster care after a pair of miscarriages. Of course, right as their home was opened, Caleigh was pregnant again. After seven months fostering Cayla and Camille, Caleigh gave birth to the couple’s first biological daughter - Clarke. Parenthood was thrust upon the Romines. They had a newborn, 1-year-old and 2-year-old.

“All you can do is laugh,” Caleigh said. “It was a great, great time.”

Cayla and Camille were in the Romines’ care, but Caleigh and Callan hadn’t yet adopted them. The girls’ biological mother was still fighting for custody.

Camille was 4 months old and Cayla was 18 months old when they were found at home alone. Cayla was dangerously malnourished; Camille was found beneath several quilts on a bed.

After 18 months with Camille and Cayla, the Romines were losing them. A judge couldn’t find significant evidence to put the girls up for adoption.

The news devastated Callan. Cayla’s third birthday was the same week. It felt like the two girls who had become family had been given a death sentence.

“I went to pick them up from school, and I just sat there and cried,” Callan said.

The judge planned to slowly reintegrate the girls back into their biological family. They started with weekly visits in July 2014.

Caleigh was running in the Color Run a month after the heartbreaking news. Her phone, strapped to her arm, blew up with messages and phone calls from lawyers and people close to Cayla and Camille’s case. Caleigh paused in Craighead Forest and began returning the calls. The girls weren’t going anywhere. After a series of events, it was clear the girls were theirs forever.

A judge finalized the adoption four months later. Callan, a 28-year-old from White Hall, and Caleigh, a 27-year-old from Corning, were the proud parents of two black girls from north Jonesboro.

Strangers stare. The family is used to it now. Caleigh just tells the girls to wave.

One Sunday they went to eat at a Mexican restaurant in Brookland. Everyone in the place seemed to be staring more than usual.

When it came time to pay, the waitress informed the family someone else had taken care of the check. There was a note on the receipt thanking the Romines for adopting.

“That was a turning point for me,” Callan reasoned. Perhaps, not all stares are bad.

The couple is still busy fostering, but they can only do so much. With four children in the home, they’re forced to turn down hundreds more.

Caleigh spends much of her time recruiting new foster families. There’s always excuses, but one is more frequent than the others.

“It’s my pet peeve,” she said. “People always say, ‘Well, I’ll get too attached.’ No, kids need attachment. You’re the perfect person for foster care if you get attached. It’s not about us. It’s about the kids.”

___

Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

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