Judges in their black robes wearing plastic crowns, blowing bubbles, and a woman in a pink fairy costume surrounded by balloons, facepaint and presents – all for scheduled legal proceedings at the Montgomery County Circuit Court.
On Adoption Day, judges and clerks threw aside the type of sober decorum that usually accompanies legal proceedings at the Montgomery County Circuit in Rockville in favor of a celebratory theme as judges officially approved eight petitions for adoptions.
“We want the families to feel as special as possible because they are the true heroes of our community,” said Lili Khozeimeh, the adoption case manager for the Montgomery County Circuit Court. “They open their hearts and homes to these kids who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to have this.”
While adoption proceedings are usually one of the happier occasions for people to gather at court – where a judge reviews, then approves, prospective adoptions, eight years ago officials from the circuit court decided that the proceeding should be a little more fun – at least on one day a year.
National Adoption Day takes place the week before Thanksgiving, and serves as an opportunity for nonprofits and community activists to promote adoption and to give thanks to families who have decided to adopt.
The road to adoption for Silver Spring residents Traci and Marvin Harris was sudden.
Growing up, Traci’s parents volunteered as foster parents, hosting numerous at-risk kids in need of a family. That experience, encouraged Traci and Marvin Harris to volunteer as foster parents as well.
But unlike with adoption, in foster care, the child’s stay is usually temporary, meaning Traci and Marvin became attached to their foster kids only to watch them leave. On Oct. 31, Traci and Marvin received a call they had been waiting for – that there was a child in need of a family.
On Friday, less than a month after they received the call, a judge finally approved the adoption of Traci and Marvin’s new son – Everett.
“I know there are some people out there that think that they can’t love a kid that is not blood, and to me it makes absolutely no difference,” Traci Harris said. “You can’t tell me that, that’s not my child.”
Adoptions are usually sealed cases, but the eight families that participated in Adoption Day agreed to make their cases open.
Judges held kids on their lap as they approved their adoption to a new family. New parents cried and then hugged the judges who approved the adoptions of their new children, followed by thunderous applause from an enthusiastic audience in the gallery. Other judges sat in the jury box, blew bubbles and played with kids who were waiting for their adoptions or just had had their adoption approved.
Khozeimeh, the adoption coordinator for the circuit court, was dressed in a fairy costume with a pink tutu and wings. Khozeimeh explained her costume and the crowns the judges wore are symbolic — that the day is mean to represent the dreams of kids waiting for adoption finally coming true.
“When you walk in, you want it to be like an adoption wonderland,” she said.
Joining the festivities was Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who served as the keynote speaker of the event. Van Hollen, sensing his audience was made up of young kids, opted to keep much of his prepared remarks about federal funding for adoption programs brief, saying he did not want to bore the kids with details about policy.
Van Hollen argued that Congress needs to provide more funding for adoption programs and that while there is bipartisan support to up the funding, there is a cause to worry, as some members of Congress have argued to shift funding into block-grants, which Van Hollen argued would hurt adoption non-profits.
“I just ask all of you, as we work through Congress in a pretty turbulent political time, that we try to make sure we maximize our support for these efforts at the federal level,” Van Hollen said.