A rural Brainerd couple wouldn’t let anything stop them from becoming a family of five.
Not their physical disabilities and not them being an interracial couple. And why should it? Master and Anna Hinkle have been in wheelchairs for most of their lives: Master, since he was 3, and Anna since she was 16 — both the result of vehicle crashes.
This was their life and their normal — until one day in December 2019, when the couple went from being a family of two to being a family of five. That’s when their new normal became taking care of three children: Emilee, 10; Tonio, 8; and Malik, 6.
And they wouldn’t change anything in the entire world.
The couple adopted the children with help from Nancy Kagel, a social worker with the Brainerd office of Kindred Family Focus. Kindred is a Minnesota-based private foster care provider offering services such as therapeutic foster care, permanency planning and family support programs.
The family sat down with the Dispatch in February to tell their story — and since then they have been like everyone else, dealing with the pandemic.
The Hinkles met about 10 years ago while they were both on wheelchair basketball teams at the University of Alabama. They met at a barbecue and the rest is history. They moved to the Brainerd area about eight years ago as Anna’s family is from the area. After settling down, they decided they wanted to have a baby, but realized it was going to be difficult and expensive as they’d have to go through in vitro fertilization.
“We decided that it would be a really good idea to give kids a home that actually needed one versus burning that time, energy and effort, you know, on one that may not be,” Master said. “So we just started to put that effort into three breathing kids already. We were gonna start small. We're gonna go with one, and we're gonna try to get a 2- or 3-year-old. And then, you know, she showed me the boys and ... and I was like, OK, two would work and we went to the park to meet them and it turns out they have an older sister, too. And it only took us probably about two minutes to talk it over in the car ... and we’re like, well, if they're coming, and there's a way she can come, too — so we went from one to three.
“And it was a great decision.”
Kagel said when people use a private foster/adoption agency, they can adopt children from all over the state, not just the county they live in.
“Anna and Master chose our agency because they wanted more support from their case worker, me,” Kagel said. “Private agencies typically have smaller caseloads and are able to provide added support throughout the adoption process. While their children appear perfectly normal, they have been through significant trauma in their young lives and have had therapeutic services to help them heal. I would like people to remember that there are many Minnesota youth in need of a permanent home.”
Kagel said the three children at first were not available for adoption, but then the county they were in contacted her agency and stated they were looking for a permanent home.
“It was like it was meant to be,” she said. The children moved into the Hinkles’ home in August 2018; all the adoption placement papers were in place in June 2019; and the children were officially adopted Dec. 26, 2019.
Kagel said preparing the couple for adoption was different from other couples as they went from zero to three children all at once. Most families adopt one child at a time, and have the time to adjust and learn how to parent one child before adopting another child.
With the Hinkles, everything went fine. Kagel recalled in the beginning, when the couple was filling out the paperwork, they asked, “Does it matter if we are both in wheelchairs?” Master said they really didn’t think that it would matter.
“We're somewhat accomplished in our own right,” Master said. “I kept myself alive for the last 30-plus years. And so, you know, we went about it like just regular people. There were a lot of things that we did take into account, like our ages and some of the things we wouldn't get to teach them like riding a bike, things of that nature, but we have so many grandparents who are here to support us and help us with that.”
The Hinkles found out at the last minute that the three children would be coming that August day. The couple scrambled and ran to the store to buy clothing, bedding, school supplies and other things needed for the children.
“It was almost jarring at first, you know, like you’re sleeping in on a regular basis and you pop up in the middle of night and are like, ‘Oh my God, I got three kids,’” Master said. “And we hadn't had to read bedtime stories or anything like that before ... and they were in a new place, so they were a little shaky at first and not really comfortable.”
Master said at night they would randomly pop into their bedrooms to check on the children to make sure they were OK. The children asked the couple what their names were in the beginning. The Hinkles told them their names and said they could call them anything they wanted, too — that they didn’t have to call them Mom or Dad.
“We just let them work that out on their own time,” Master said. “After two weeks, we got our first Mom or Dad and I think we knew that was it. They felt like they were not going anywhere.”
Kagel said it was nice to see the interaction between the couple and children. When the children came home from school, they excitedly ran to the Hinkles and told them about their day.
“The best thing about working with Anna and Master is it kind of opened my eyes to the fact that truly anybody can adopt,” Kagel said. “No one should be held back because they're in a wheelchair or a mixed-race couple in a non-diverse community because the kids are a mix, too. “It really has been good to work with them and learn about their own histories. I’ve learned how it's worked well for them and how nothing has really held them back. I think anyone can do it (as she turned to the couple) and you guys have learned a lot on how to deal with trauma ... and have had a lot of training. It's been good.”
The children were excited when they first learned about Master’s involvement with the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, where he is an all-star player and also was a coach.
“They thought I just played around and ... when they saw me play for the first time, you know, their eyes were like this big,” Master said, gesturing with his arms. “It was one of the coolest moments for me, too, to experience seeing how excited they were to see me play.
“My wife had them make signs and whatnot, and had a little cheering section over there for me.”
Master said he is taking a break from basketball for a while as things just got busy — raising three children.
Adoption/foster care information
Foster care is the placement of children into temporary living situations when parents or caregivers are unable to care for them and whose need for care has come to the attention of child welfare professionals. The intention of foster care is to provide a safe environment while professionals work with the family to address the concerns that lead to the need for foster care, with the ultimate goal of the child’s safe return home.
According to a document Kagel shared from Minnesota Adopt — an organization contracted by the Department of Human Services — when reunification is not possible, the state will take the legal steps necessary to terminate parental rights to become the child’s legal guardian. Once this has happened, the state will seek permanent placement options.
Currently there are 800 Minnesota children in immediate need of a permanent home. Of these children:
60% are sibling groups in need of a family who can care for all of the children together.
60% are children of nonwhite background.
40% are children between the ages of 12-18.
The reasons behind a child’s placement into foster care can vary widely, depending on the needs and circumstances of the family of origin. All children in foster care have experienced traumatic events and have unique needs.
“Due to their experiences, some may lack trust in adults to meet their needs and keep them safe,” the document stated. “They may show their feelings through aggression, social withdrawal, emotional introversion, generalized fear/anxiety and other behaviors that require a high level of patience, supervision and guidance. These children may also need guidance in learning the basics of daily routines, self-care and social skills. Most importantly, children placed into foster care need to feel supported, safe and cared for.”