By LANE DeGREGORY
Published May 27, 2007
See past coverage:
"Good intentions"; May 14, 2006
"Lillie, baby Thomas and the foster parents; Nov. 25, 2006THE STORY: Lillie Southerland needed a mom - for herself and her baby. She was 14, pregnant and had spent most of her life in foster care. In January 2006, Lillie met a sonogram tech named Amy Chandler. Amy was married and had five children of her own, but invited Lillie to move into their Ruskin home. She promised to adopt Lillie and help raise her baby.
The baby, Thomas, was born almost three months premature. His breathing was irregular. He had to be tethered to a tube and a briefcase-sized machine that monitored his heart.
When Thomas was 4 months old, Amy asked Lillie to move out. She had lied and disobeyed rules, shown an R-rated movie to Amy's 10-year-old son. But Amy still wanted to adopt Lillie's baby.
FROM THE STORY: A week after Lillie went back to foster care, a caseworker called. They were coming to take Thomas. "What?" Amy cried. "Why?"
Lillie didn't want her child in Amy's home, the foster worker said. Amy had been allowed to have Thomas only because she had agreed to take Lillie. Now the deal was off. Someone would be there to get Thomas in a half-hour.
"This is the only home that baby's known, " Amy said. "What's going to happen to him?"
THE REST OF THE STORY: Lillie was sent to a group home but ran away. Six times. Police kept arresting her on a probation violation and returning her to foster care. Amy, her husband and five children moved to Tennessee last summer, ready to put Florida and its foster care system behind them. Baby Thomas stayed in foster care.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: Thomas was adopted. On May 4, more than a year after Lillie's baby was taken from the Chandlers, the foster family that took him in made him their son. He is 16 months old now, off the monitor, "stocky and strong, " says his dad, Glenn Humes. "He's a little tank. We think he's gearing up to be a football player." Humes, 40, owns an electrical business; his wife Sharon, 38, stays at their Riverview home with their three children, all of whom were adopted from foster care. Thomas' big brother, Tyler, is 7; his sister, Skyler, is 2. Thomas just got his own dog, a toy chihuahua named Nadia. Lillie was invited to see her son, Humes said, but she never showed. She had run away again. He has heard she might be pregnant again. If she is, he already told foster care workers he wants to adopt that baby too. "It feels so great for us, knowing that we're able to get this child out of the cycle of welfare and foster care." When Thomas is old enough, Humes said, he plans to tell him about Lillie. "We even have pictures of her, and that article to show him."
Lane DeGregory, Times staff writer