Describing the scene in the Ohio courtroom on April 27, 2017, may make it sound like just another day. Indeed, the twiddling thumbs, the shaking legs and the darting glances would be typical of anyone waiting for a judge to seal their fate.
But those awaiting Judge Ralph Winkler’s decision on this particular day were not who you might expect. In fact, there were 11 children sat before the judge on a long, wooden bench, butterflies undoubtedly swirling in their stomachs.
Six of the children were biological siblings: Coby, 16, Christian, 14, Caleb, 13, Caylee, 12, Carson, 10, and Chloe, 9. They were in foster care and hoped that they could stay under one roof. It was always a tall order for one family to take in a half-dozen siblings, though.
However, a stroke of luck brought them to Christina and Christopher Sanders. They are a Cincinnati couple who had always dreamed of fostering and eventually adopting children. “[Adopting’s] always been in her heart,” said Christopher of his wife. “Her heart is huge.”
The Sanders made an agreement before their foster children arrived. “Whoever we get, we will keep ’em,” Christina told Judge Winkler. So when they heard about these six siblings in the foster care system, they felt moved to do something.
Christopher told People, “When we heard about these siblings, we made a plan from the beginning to keep them together.” Christina agreed, adding, “We were going to do whatever it took to make sure they could stay together.”
However, it wasn’t as simple as that. At first, the couple successfully moved the boys – Caleb, Carson, Christian and Coby – into their home in Forest Park, Ohio. Yet although the brothers happily settled into life with the Sanders, they couldn’t help but worry about their sisters, Caylee and Chloe, who were still in other foster homes.
It was an obstacle that Christina and Christopher faced head-on, however, and they eventually succeeded in bringing home the last two children. Their six-bedroom house buzzed with the addition of the pair, while all six foster children said that they felt at home right away.
But there were a few other people left to impress – five, to be exact. They weren’t judges, or lawyers, or social workers, either. They were the five other children in the courtroom on April 27.
You see, Christina and Christopher Sanders were already parents. And what’s more, their brood was already large compared to most modern-day families. Indeed, the Sanders have five biological children: Christopher, 19, Cameron, 14, Caden, 12, Chad, 10, and Caitlyn, 9.
And it was Christopher’s departure for the University of Cincinnati that freed up enough room for Caylee and Chloe to move in, completing the family of 13. Of course, the ten children living in Forest Park quickly became a tight bunch.
Yes, despite the occasional sibling argument, the kids get along well. The children, for example, spend much of their time playing sports in the yard – a pastime that has become much more entertaining with more brothers and sisters. “When we go outside, it’s a lot of people playing and it’s hard to get each other,” one of the Sanders’ biological sons told ABC 9 News.
The three sisters have also bonded. Indeed, Chloe and Caitlyn showed off their love for one another on their day in court by wearing matching outfits. “The best thing about being Caitlyn’s sister is that I have two sisters now,” said Chloe. Caitlyn agreed, saying, “She’s the sweetest sister ever and I love her so much.”
What’s more, the crew became so close-knit that the six foster children asked their caseworker if they could change their names. This would mean that they too could share the Sanders family’s initials. Now, then, all 13 of them have the initials “CMS.”
“Everyone in our family has [the same initials], and the kids, without us knowing, asked their case worker if they could change their names to match our initials,” Christopher explained to People. “She said, ‘Yes, you can.’” Christina shared the same amazement at the children’s decision. “It is unheard of, but, yes, my babies did it,” she said. “They wanted a new start.”
Because the kids had bonded so strongly with the Sanders and become a bona fide family, Christopher and Christina decided to make it official. On April 27, they sat before Judge Winkler with the intention of adopting all six of their foster children.
“I’ve been here for over two years,” Judge Winkler told ABC 9 News. “It’s the first time I’ve had six children being adopted by one family, so I know it’s that unique.” The crowd in Judge Winkler’s small courtroom contained not only the Sanders and their biological and foster children, but also numerous additional family members as well. Some grabbed tissues on the way to their seats, knowing that what would come would be emotional whatever happened.
Caleb tried to express to Judge Winkler what the Sanders meant to him and his siblings. “We was having a rough life, before,” he said as he became choked with tears. “You feel like you’re in a safe place now?” Judge Winkler asked. All Caleb could do was nod.
The love shared between them was clear, and Judge Winkler had no hesitation in signing the adoption papers, officially making the Sanders a family of 13. Some observers had mixed feelings, however, and Christina and Christopher have faced questions about adopting white rather than black children. “We just don’t respond because we love our children, and race isn’t an issue for us,” Christopher said to People. “God says we are all the same.”
The Sanders have since returned to their everyday life – one that, among other challenges, requires a stricter-than-average schedule to get all the children up and ready for school in the morning. They wouldn’t trade the chaos for anything, though. In fact, the only thing they would change is their car. They’re hoping a GoFundMe campaign will help them raise the required funds to buy a 15-seater van so that everyone can travel together in a single vehicle.