Jackie Bannister, 5, was all dressed up. "Church shoes," she announced, holding out a small foot to show off brown Mary Janes.
The clothes were fancy for a reason. "It's adoption day," said Gina Bannister, 6. "It means you're getting born by a new parent."
"It means we're going to be daughters forever and ever," Jackie said.
Valerie and Jerome Bannister, parents of a son now 13, were looking for just one child last fall when they inquired about adoption through the Baltimore Department of Social Services. But then they were introduced to sisters who had spent almost their whole lives in a series of foster homes.
The Bannisters' son, Jamin, an eighth-grader at Loyola High School, analyzed the situation for his parents: Adopt one child and the family has to deal with an anxious stranger alone in a new household; adopt sisters and they've each got a companion to help through the transition.
And so last May, Gina and Jackie moved into a new house and began classes in a new school.
Yesterday, as cameras flashed and many of Gina's and Jackie's new relatives applauded, it all became official. The Bannisters signed final adoption papers. They agreed to the public ceremony to help the Adoption Services staff celebrate National Adoption Month.
About 200 children -- many of them older than 6, many of them part of sibling groups, many of them with medical problems -- are waiting for adoption through the Department of Social Services.
"What we've been trying to do all month is heighten awareness that there are all these children who need loving homes," said Shirley E. Marcus, director of DSS. "We need more families like the Bannisters."
Mr. Bannister, an electrical engineer, and Mrs. Bannister, a computer support specialist, said they have been amazed at how well the girls appear to have adjusted. "Children are survivors," Mrs. Bannister said, referring to the girls' unsettled history.
Jamin noticed when the girls first arrived that Gina, at 6, acted like a protective mother to Jackie, just a year younger. "Because they never had a mother," Jamin said.
"One of the first days, I was playing with Jackie on the porch and I picked her up," Jamin recalled. "And Gina said, 'Be careful with my sister.' I let her know she's my sister now too."
Now the family is looking forward to Christmas. Mr. Bannister expects "pandemonium."
"Last week we took them through Kiddie City, and they said, 'I want this. I want that.' And we just followed, taking notes."
Every night, Valerie Bannister puts her daughters to sleep with the same good-night wish her mother used to use: "Pleasant dreams always and always." In her household, she said, it means something more. "They know they're going to be someplace always and always."