Modern Life

It’s a Boy reveals how new “baby” pictures created missing family memories

On National Adoption Day, HP’s new short documentary shows how a “newborn” photo shoot cemented a sense of belonging for two adopted siblings.

By Patrick Rogers — November 13, 2019

Modern Life

It’s a Boy reveals how new “baby” pictures created missing family memories

On National Adoption Day, HP’s new short documentary shows how a “newborn” photo shoot cemented a sense of belonging for two adopted siblings.

By Patrick Rogers — November 13, 2019

It’s A Boy is part of HP's original documentary project, History of Memory, which celebrates the power of printed photos. 


Dozens of family photos decorate English teacher Kelli Higgins’ bustling six-bedroom house in Crestview, Florida, where the divorced mother of eight is raising her large family — six biological children and a pair of adopted siblings. Hanging on the walls are framed portraits shot by Higgins, who runs a photography business on the side, of family snapshots and softly-lit photos of infants with tiny fingers and toes.

But one set of pictures in the Higgins family gallery stands out. They are of a boy swaddled in a crisp white baby blanket and flashing a beatific smile. Yet his face is that of a teenager and the feet sticking out of his frilly leg-warmers are comically large. “Here’s my sweet not-so-little newborn!,” Higgins wrote when she posted the tongue-in-cheek birth announcement of her adopted 13-year-old son in 2013. “His name is Latrell and he weighs 112 lbs.” 

It’s a Boy, a new short film in HP’s award-winning History of Memory documentary series about the impact of printed images, is scheduled for release on National Adoption Day, November 23, and explores how, after years in foster care, two siblings found a stable home and a new life in a loving family where they thrived. The film is also about how Kelli Higgins’s photographs of her children helped open a long-overdue conversation in the media about older children in the child welfare system who are often stigmatized as “unadoptable.” 

“All children need stability, even the older ones who have aged out of the system,” says Higgins. “It makes me so sad to think, Where do they go for big holidays and birthdays? They need that foundation.”

DISCOVER: More stories of people whose lives were changed by printed photographs. Visit the History of Memory project.

WATCH: The full History of Memory series will be available November 23 on the premium documentary channel Docurama and on iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo on December 17. 

Unfortunately many of them aren’t getting it. Every year, some 20,000 children in the US ‘age out’ of foster care without finding a family to adopt them, making them vulnerable to a host of challenges from lower high school graduation rates to higher risk of homelessness and involvement with the criminal justice system. Even children as young as 10 are commonly not chosen by adoptive families. 

“There are myths and misperceptions about foster children being too old, too damaged and too difficult, while, in fact these children have every opportunity for successful growth into adulthood with the support of a safe, loving family,” says Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a national, public nonprofit charity dedicated to finding permanent homes for the more than 125,000 children waiting to be adopted from foster care across the country. 

Propelled partly by feel-good humor, Latrell Higgins’ “baby pictures” ricocheted around the world on the internet, attracting the attention of national news outlets and tens of thousands of wellwishers. But what turned them in the viral sensation was Latrell’s poignant backstory: Latrell and his biological sister Chanya had lived with more than a dozen foster families in the two years before they were they were taken in by Higgins. They arrived with their few remaining personal belongings and not a single family photograph.

Kelli Higgins's "birth announcement" photos of her adopted teenage son Latrell went viral after she posted them on Facebook.

“I, for one, had never really thought about the fact that a lot of kids in the foster care system do not have pictures from their childhood. They lack that evidence of who they were, and what they looked like, and what was happening at an earlier time of their life,” says Sarah Klein, who co-directed the film with Tom Mason, her creative partner in Redglass Pictures. “It made me feel the value in something that most of us take for granted.”

Latrell says that at age 10 he had already given up hope of finding a permanent home after he and his sister were removed from the custody of their single mother with when she struggled with addiction. Their situation was frightening and it made him angry and reactive. “The people I was in foster homes with weren't expecting that kind of behavior, and didn't really want to deal with it, so they would just move us to a different home,” he says. “That went on for a long time. Two years, I believe. Fourteen homes.”

At the same time, Higgins and her then-husband who had five biological offspring and another one on the way, decided that they had room in their home, and hearts, to adopt. “I felt guilty that we were having such a large family when there were so many children out there that needed to home,” says Higgins.

When Latrell, then 10, and his eight-year-old sister were finally adopted by the Higgins family in 2010, the adjustment to life in a large family was surprisingly smooth. “Unlike the foster homes, there was a feeling of really being wanted,” he says. It took time for certain difficult issues to come to the surface, like the significant absence of family photos, which Latrell discussed for the first time during a family dinner a few years after being adopted. One of his siblings jokingly suggested that their mother could make new “baby” pictures and Higgins took the pictures the next day, with members of the family looking on with laughter.

"Latrell has such a good sense of humor, I knew he'd like having his pictures taken," says Kelli Higgins.

Latrell Higgins, now 20, is studying criminal justice as an undergraduate at Northwest Florida State College and hopes to go on to law school. He still thinks his “newborn” photos are good for a laugh. But looking back at that day when his mom used her skills as a photographer to fill a painful void in his past, he speaks quietly. “Honestly, it was the start of my new life,” he says. “We had the photos on the wall, we just didn’t have any of me, and I kind of have that now. It was like my official welcoming to the family.”

Here's an easy way to donate to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

See more stories of people whose lives were changed by printed photographs.