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Family adopts teen brothers, marking milestone for Broward’s Heart Gallery

It was one poignant photograph of blue-eyed brothers Tyler and Kyle that brought them to their new family.

Since becoming wards of the state’s welfare system five years ago, Tyler and Kyle have each lived in four foster homes. Twice they were separated.

“I saw things no kid should see,” 14-year-old Kyle said Monday, as he and Tyler, 16, became the 100th and 101st adoptions made possible by the Heart Gallery of Broward County. “Now I’m going to be with an actual family.”

The Heart Gallery is a photo exhibit showcasing foster children in need of a permanent home. The exhibit, which was first created in 2008, travels to malls, churches and hospitals around the county, primarily showcasing older children and siblings.

“It captivated me that they were brothers, and that they needed to be together,” said Marta DePasquale, the adoptive mother of the boys. She and her husband Roy saw the photo, with a much younger Kyle leaning his head on his big brother’s shoulder, on the Heart Gallery’s website. They asked ChildNet, a private non-profit agency that handles adoptions from the state system, to set up a meeting with the boys.

The DePasquales are no strangers to teen adoption.

In 2009, the DePasquales had adopted Ashley, now 17 and her sister Caitlin, now 18, also through ChildNet.

The couple understood the potential difficulties of adopting teens who had been through the system, and perhaps carried baggage from a troubled past.

“People think they can’t adopt teens because they’ll be bad kids,” Roy DePasquale said. “It helps to remember that we were kids, too, and we’re not perfect.”

The first meeting between the DePasquales and the boys was set up for a fun day at Boomers arcade last August.

At the time, Tyler just wanted to age out of the system when he turned 18; Kyle was acting out and placed in a special needs unit.

But after that first meeting, they wanted to see the DePasquales again.

And they did. For the next five months, Roy, Marta and their two daughters visited the brothers once a week. Tyler and Kyle asked their caseworker to add the family to a list of people allowed to have unsupervised visits. And in January, Tyler and Kyle moved into their Miramar home.

“It’s fun being with them, and I like the feeling of being permanent,” Tyler said during the adoption ceremony.

Tyler and Kyle were taken into the care of the child welfare system five years ago, when Tyler was 11 and Kyle was 9.

“There were a lot of drugs, a lot of fighting, that’s what I remember,” said Kyle, about life before being inside the system.

According to Children’s Rights, an advocacy group for kids in the national child welfare system, 69.1 percent of children who enter foster care are older than age 12. In 2007, more than 30,000 children in foster care exited the system simply because they turned 18, or “age out.”

Michael Stephens, the child advocate caseworker for Tyler and Kyle, said aging out would have been traumatic for both.

“A lot of them end up in bad situations, homelessness, drugs,” Stephens said. “They’re dealing with what happened in the past, and they have no one.”

As Marta sat next to her sons at the adoption ceremony Monday, she said she hopes her family’s success inspires others to give older kids an opportunity to grow in a real home.

“Age is really irrelevant, it’s about the connection that you have with the kids,” Marta said.

“We’re very proud,” added Roy. “You can tell in little ways that they’re growing.”

Tyler, who always preferred to be alone, sat joking with his brother and sisters before the adoption ceremony. Kyle’s behavior has improved, and he isn’t getting into as much trouble as he was.

The brothers sat next to each other Monday during the ceremony which officially changed their last name from Trainer to DePasquale and made them permanent members of the family.

As Circuit County Judge Susan Lebow declared the parents fit to welcome the boys to their household, Marta and Roy tearfully embraced.

“There’s different ways of making a family,’’ said Marta DePasquale. “And this is so rewarding.”