ROCKVILLE – On Nov. 22, in celebration of National Adoption Month, Montgomery County invited the families of eight children to finalize their adoptions at the Circuit Court of Montgomery County’s annual adoption ceremony. Circuit Court judges Anne Albright, Kevin Hessler and Margaret Schweitzer presided over the ceremony, along with Cynthia Callahan, who joined in on the proceedings.
The courtroom was filled with bubbles blowing from a machine. Callahan and Albright wore glittering tiaras to mark the occasion. Outside the courthouse, set tables were filled with food, and one table was set for kids to receive balloon animals and face paint.
The ceremony brought the families before each judge, who finalized the adoption and declared the new names of the adopted children. They each received gifts that included Build-a-Bears, posters with their new names and the Dr. Seuss book “Oh the Places You’ll Go!”
“It’s is one of the best days of my job,” said Sapna Shankar, a social worker from Foster and Adoptive Parent Services Child Welfare Services. “We get to see the happy ending.”
The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) saw 34 finalized adoptions this year, but it sees between 400 and 500 kids in foster care in any given year.
During that time, social workers work with parents to address issues that contributed to the abuse or neglect that lost them their child, including substance abuse, mental illness or generally poor parenting skills.
Judges also meet the parents at least once a year, often many times a year, to address their case and discuss steps toward regaining guardianship.
Often, those problems are resolved, and the majority of children return to their birth families. But other times, judges are forced to terminate parental rights.
Mark and Patty Lefebvre came into the custody of their granddaughter Jayda just two days after she was born, as it was clear their daughter, the mother, was unable to take care of her. The adoption was necessary to keep Jayda out of foster care and in the family.
“She’s been part of our family for the whole experience, but now she has our last name,” Alexis Lefebvre, Jayda’s aunt, said after the adoption was finalized. “No one can come in and interrupt what we have going on.”
Some families were already existing foster homes that their children were assigned to before they began the process for adoption. For Chris and Courtney Jones, the process to become a foster home brought the fire marshal to inspect the house and assigned Shankar to be their social worker.
Shankar’s role was to help with administrative work and to help the foster family understand the duty it was about to take on.
“The court process can have its ups and downs, and it’s very unpredictable,” Shankar said about the adoption process.
“I knew how much they wanted to grow their family and how excited they were about taking foster children,” she said.
The Jones family was only cleared to foster just 22 hours before their now-adopted daughter, Zahara, was assigned to their home. At the time, she was only a newborn.
Chris Jones had never envisioned that he would adopt, but after bringing Zahara home, “there was no question in our minds that that’s what we were going to do.”
Niesha and Aaron Buchanan attended the ceremony to finalize the adoption of their daughter London. The two had only been a foster home for a couple of months before London, then four months old, entered their home. As opportunities for London to return to her birth family came and fell away, they realized they wanted to keep her. Finally, her birth mother terminated her parental rights, allowing Niesha and Aaron Buchanan to do just that.
The ceremony was an opportunity to relieve stress for families, as the adoption’s finalization gave them full rights to parenthood to their children. For many of them, the end of the process was an end to a common worry for parents.
“Knowing now she’s ours, there isn’t going to someone who’s going to try to take her away,” Mark Lefebvre said.
“It’s almost like you walk through it with fear,” Chris Jones said. “And then on days like today, you realize that she’s yours, 100%. Nobody’s ever going to take her away, ever, for any reason. And that’s the best part about it.”