Adoption Day: time for cheers, tears

November 16, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Each mom got a single red rose. Each child, whether toddler or teenager, got a brown teddy bear. Fifteen children in all, most living in foster homes, got permanent families.

As a procession of adoptions came through Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday, the new mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts, friends, and even the judge wiped tears from their eyes.

"One of the most pleasant duties we do as judges is adoption," said Circuit Judge John O. Hennegan, who presided over a county ceremony marking National Adoption Day. "It's the most rewarding and satisfying of all our duties. When you see the pleasure in everyone's faces, you want to perpetuate that."

The event in the Old Courthouse in Towson was one of four mass adoptions held in circuit courts around the state over the past few days to finalize a total of 70 adoptions. The ceremonies coincided with a national day that aims to raise awareness of the 129,000 children in the United States living in foster care.

Of those, 9,200 are in Maryland's foster system, with 1,400 children available for adoption, the state Department of Human Resources says. Forty percent are teenagers age 16 or older. The department has a goal of finalizing adoptions for those 1,400 children in the next year, Human Resources Secretary Brenda Donald said yesterday.

"We are working very hard to shorten the amount of time a child ultimately stays in foster care," before being returned to their families or placed in a permanent adoptive home, Donald said after the event in Towson.

Before the judge called up families, Tiffany Frank, a 25-year-old clerk at a Towson law firm, told the families about her placement in foster care at age 3, when she was removed from an abusive situation. After years of living in a foster home in Baltimore County while her birth parents refused to terminate parental rights, Frank said she filed a legal challenge that allowed her foster parents to adopt her at age 12.

"I was one of the lucky children," Frank said. "I got a stable, loving, incredible family that would love me unconditionally. You are some of the luckiest children, too."

Families finalized adoptions yesterday for children ages 13 months to 15 years. There were single parents, families adopting siblings and foster parents turned permanent mothers and fathers.

Hennegan, an adoptive father of a now-23-year-old son, said from the outset that he wouldn't even try to keep order in the crowded courtroom.

"Let them be," he told the parents. "Let them make noise and run around. You won't be able to control them anyway."

When it was his turn before the judge, 4-year-old Andrew Kershaw commandeered the judge's microphone, obviously pleased with the sound of his voice. He announced clearly that he wanted to be adopted. He was, along with his two biological sisters, Brittany, 9 and Chelsie, 7.

Their adoptive mother, Toni Kershaw of Middle River, said she had been the children's foster mother for the past three years, taking all three into her home when she learned that they would otherwise be split up.

Andrea and Steve Hawley of Reisterstown also adopted siblings, Jasmine, 7, and Marissa, 21 months. They said they waited to adopt Jasmine until they could be sure that Marissa's adoption would go through, too. Both had been their foster children.

The family, which also has an 11-year-old daughter, was relieved yesterday, Andrea Hawley said.

"The not knowing has been the biggest challenge, not knowing whether they were going or staying," she said.

David Roland, a single father from Owings Mills, finalized the adoption of his foster son, El-Shaddai Augustus-Roland, 15.

"I feel like this is the next good step in my life," said El-Shaddai, a ninth-grader at Owings Mills High School.

Roland, 30, said El-Shaddai was placed with him in foster care when the boy was 7. For a long time, Roland said, he didn't feel ready to pursue adoption. He focused on setting clear consequences to help his foster son modify behavior problems. He promised that if behavior improved, he would adopt the boy. Yesterday, family, friends and county social workers stood up and cheered when the adoption was finalized.

"It means permanency," said Roland, who also has two foster sons. "It's hard sometimes, but I've never had a job that was more rewarding."

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