"It all started with Mason," said Kaela Fleming, the adoptive mother of two young children.
"He tested positive for five different drugs when he was born."
Kaela, an officer with Sumter Police Department, did not hesitate after receiving the …
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Kaela, an officer with Sumter Police Department, did not hesitate after receiving the call to help someone in need.
"One day I got a call at 9 p.m. to come to Hartsville the next morning," she said. "He came home the next day."
She brought Mason home from the hospital when he was two weeks old and helped him through withdrawals for the next six months.
"I think we bonded a lot more because of the struggles," she said.
Mason - the youngest of four children - and his three siblings were removed from their parents' custody on the basis that they would return to their parents if the parents changed for the better.
"Biologically, we're second cousins," Kaela said.
The children's father - a relative - contacted Kaela and her parents and asked if they would take the children in.
Later, the Department of Social Services contacted the Flemings and asked if they would watch the children through the kinship program where children are temporarily placed with relatives or family friends, giving parents the opportunity to improve themselves.
Kaela and her parents, Eddie and Allena, provided a home for two of the children - Mason, now 2, and Lexi, 6 - because they wanted the siblings to stay together. Kaela received temporary custody of Mason, and Eddie and Allena received temporary custody of Lexi.
Mason's two older brothers, 9-year-old Eli and 4-year-old Nick, were placed together with another family member in South Carolina.
About one year into the kinship program, the Flemings decided to foster the children with the intention to adopt because their parents did not comply with DSS rules.
"How can you say no to that," Allena said, "after a year of loving them."
It would have been hard to raise them from when they were very little and then give them to someone else, Kaela said. And to move Mason would mean to take him away from everything he knew, she said.
During the foster-to-adopt process, the Flemings found out the children's mother was pregnant with her fifth child, Nolan, who was also taken in by Kaela.
He tested positive for four drugs when he was born, she said.
Though she hadn't made concrete plans for herself at this age, 31, Kaela is happy with how everything has turned out.
"I go with what is presented at the moment," she said. "If I had a set plan, I might not have had the opportunity to take them in."
Like her fellow officers, Kaela works 12-hour shifts and alternates between working nights all while raising two young children as a single mother.
"We're proud of Kaela," Allena said about her daughter taking on the added responsibility along with her oath to protect and serve.
For a while, the Flemings all lived together until Kaela and the boys moved into a place of their own a few weeks ago.
The children still see each other during the day when Eddie and Allena watch the boys while Kaela is at work.
"They're together every single day," Allena said.
Though it was a victory to keep the children together, the first year or so together was a bit difficult because the children were not in good condition when they were removed from their parents' care.
Mason and Nolan went through withdrawals, and Lexi was malnourished and had behavioral issues, Kaela said.
Lexi - who began staying with the Flemings at the age of 3 - couldn't be in a restaurant for more than 15 minutes before she had to be taken outside, Allena said.
She was so far behind that she needed assistance through school and DSS programs for her behavior and speech, Eddie said. Being in a secure home really helped Lexi to blossom, he said.
Now Lexi is in 5K, loves school and is doing very well, Allena said.
Life for Allena and Eddie was also changed because they had to readjust to raising a small child after living in an empty nest for years.
"We went from grandparents to parents all over again," Allena said. She and her husband have three grandsons.
After child-proofing the house and getting back in the mindset of raising an elementary school student, Eddie and Allena said they are still satisfied with their decision.
"It's been a blessing," Allena said, "and we always know we're doing the right thing."
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