FRANKFORT, Ky. (Nov. 12, 2004) -- Kelly Lambert said her and her husband Walker’s family of three young girls is similar to a family with a set of multiples.
"It’s like having triplets," she said.
They sometimes dress alike. They argue over who’s in charge of toys and play makeup and boss each other around. They even costumed as "The Three Bears" this Halloween.
"They’ll have a beautiful moment of playing and then almost a sibling rivalry," Lambert said. "They’re very typical sisters."
But her daughters – ages 3, 5 and almost 6 – aren’t birth siblings. The 3-year-old is the Lamberts’ only birth child.
The Walkers adopted the older girls, who joined the family as foster children when they were just infants, last September.
Both girls have serious medical, emotional and physical needs. One was a premature infant with cerebral palsy, seizures and mental retardation. One was a drug-addicted infant.
Now, both 5-year-olds are in full-time kindergarten; one has special education lessons all day and the other for half her school days.
"Their education is completely tailored to their needs," Lambert said. "They’ve been very successful."
The Lamberts were one of 16 couples and children who received "Forever Families" appreciation awards from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services at a Frankfort reception on Nov. 4. Each family received a vase of white roses and plaque featuring their photo and profile.
Governor Ernie Fletcher proclaimed November Adoption Awareness Month in Kentucky, and the cabinet event celebrated the influence of all parents who have adopted children through state foster care.
"We are truly thankful for citizens like you who have opened their homes and their hearts to these children who have previously been denied a sense of stability and trust," said Eugene Foster, Ed. D., Child and Family Services undersecretary, at the reception. "It has not always been easy. For this we are especially grateful."
The "Forever Families" awards were established in 2003 to recognize parents from each cabinet region for providing support to other adoptive families and furthering adoptions in their communities. Many parents have adopted sibling groups, older children or children with special needs.
The state has set the goal of adoption for 2,000 Kentucky children who can’t be reunited with their families because of abuse, neglect and other safety issues. About 1,100 of those have had their parental rights terminated, meaning they are available for adoption.
The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires Kentucky to move kids with the goal of adoption into a permanent home faster rather than remaining in the foster care system.
Kentucky recently received a $452,000 bonus from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for meeting its 2003 adoption goals and increasing the number of adoptions from the previous fiscal year.
In 2002, there were 561 public adoptions in Kentucky; in 2003, there were 611 – an increase of 9 percent.
"Our adoption numbers have steadily increased from year to year," Foster said. "Our goal is to encourage more families to offer children a place in their lives, to give them the nurturing and stability they so need to grow."
Kelly Lambert said she "grew up praying to be the mother of a special needs child. But we had no intention of adoption until we fell head over heels in love with our girls."
A former registered nurse, Kelly said she and Walker, who works at the Toyota plant near their Georgetown home, knew they were well equipped to care for children with medical needs.
The couple began fostering medically fragile foster children in 1998 after caring for a boy Lambert met through her hospital work. He was in the end stage of cystic fibrosis.
"We felt then that we could make a difference," she said. "He helped us realize that would be our ministry for our lives."
Last year, more than 700 children were adopted. More than 80 percent of those, including the two Lambert girls, were foster care adoptions, Foster said. "When children find permanency within the home they’ve come to know, with the people they depend on and love, it’s a particularly wonderful and new beginning for a family that’s already formed."
Kelly Lambert said people may choose a private or international course over public adoption because they think it’s "safer" to adopt a very young child who may have no family attachments or acute medical needs.
"All kids will have needs – going to the doctor, needing a ride to soccer practice," she said. "When it all boils down to it, children just need families to provide them with love."
Like the Lamberts, loving and successful adoptive families become informal recruiters just by being visible in their communities.
Her children are "the greatest advocates for adoption," Lambert said. "So many people adore them and may think, ‘If that is what it’s about, I can do that.’ "
"We are a typical family even with children who are not as typical. People can witness that and see that it may not be as difficult as it sounds."
Through the years, the Lamberts have had plenty of support from state medical intervention programs like First Steps, adoption mentoring groups, family and their church.
Lambert said while she and Walker found the "Forever Families" award an honor, being parents to each of their girls is "the greatest gift we will ever experience."
"When you change one child’s life, that life is changed forever," she said. "It’s a compounding effect. Your family grows and continues to grow. We hope what we leave is just a legacy of love.
I can’t think of any greater accomplishment in our lives."
Photos and biographies of the Lamberts and the other 15 award-winning families will be displayed in the capitol rotunda through Dec. 17.
Award winners from each region and their home counties are as follows:
Barren River, Warren County: Chris and Sarah Bivens
Big Sandy, Pike County: Jimmy and Laura Stanley
Bluegrass Fayette: Randy and Alicia Merriman
Bluegrass Rural, Scott County: Walker and Kelly Lambert
Cumberland Valley, Laurel County: Stanley and Peggy Thomas
FIVCO, Boyd County: Elliott and LeaAnn Gollihue
Gateway/Buffalo Trace, Rowan County: Morton and Joann Campbell
Green River, Hancock County: Steve and Kathy Woodward
KIPDA Jefferson: Michael and Eder Crenshaw
KIPDA Rural, Oldham County: Jerry and Kathy Alsup
Kentucky River, Leslie County: John and Rosemary Eldridge
Lake Cumberland, Pulaski County: Teressa and Gregory Ellis
Lincoln Trail, Hardin County: Rob and Susan Martell
Northern Kentucky, Kenton County: Michael and Tammi Brock
Pennyrile, Trigg County: Winfred and Donna Pettigrew
Purchase, Ballard County: Stan and Tammy Manea
Note to editors and producers: Most families will consent to media interviews. Call Anya Armes Weber at (502) 564-6180, ext. 4014 for contact information and short profiles of the families.