Robert Carter, a 33-year-old resident of Cincinnati, made it his mission to bring together five siblings who were once separated in the foster care system.
Carter, the owner of a Cincinnati hair salon, became a foster parent to three brothers in 2018. It was during this time that he overheard the eldest brother discussing their sisters and learned that the siblings had been separated.
The revelation struck a deeply personal chord within him, as he had experienced the pain of being separated from his own siblings during his time in foster care.
Placed in foster care at the age of 13, Carter's early life was marked by challenges. His mother, a single parent of nine, struggled with alcoholism, leaving him to take on the role of provider for his siblings. He said he would steal food from corner stores so his siblings had something to eat.
He said he navigated the difficulties without turning to drugs or alcohol, avoiding them after "seeing what my mom and dad went through, how it affected them, how it affected us."
Carter lived independently at 16 after being in two foster care homes. With three jobs — including working concessions at the Cincinnati Reds, as a dishwasher at Chipotle and a cashier at Wendy's — he persevered but said he was lonely never coming home to someone.
"It was hard. It was one of the most depressing times of my life – something I would never want my kids to go through," he said.
Upon aging out of foster care at 18, Carter took custody of his sister and later became the guardian of his 13-year-old brother, at 21. His commitment led him to welcome foster children into his home.
"I feel like I just used my trauma and my hurting stuff to be my fuel, to keep going and to want better and want to help people and do better in life," Carter said.
His determination to provide his children with the love and support he lacked led him to seek out the boys' sisters and reunite a family.
Magistrate Rogena Stargul played a pivotal role in the siblings' journey toward reunification. Initially skeptical of Carter's decision to adopt all five kids, she eventually witnessed the power of his determination and granted her approval.
"I'm looking to see body language — how are the kids interacting with each other as well as the petitioners as the
testimony is being taken, and I'm like, 'This is the real deal,'" Stargul said.
Carter said he learned how to be a good parent by not having one.
"I just try to do everything I wanted as a child in my dad ... to make sure that they have everything I wanted and more," he said.
Recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that over 390,000 children are living within the U.S. foster care system.
Mariana, one of the sisters, said it helps to know that Carter understands firsthand what they have experienced.
"It helps a lot ... because some people don't understand," she said.
Their togetherness extends beyond the family unit, as the siblings work at Carter's salon. The family has also grown to include not only the five siblings, but also Carter's reconciled parents, who have embraced their role as grandparents.
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