“These parents are going straight to heaven with no detour!” This was Joni Irvin’s pronouncement about a couple who came to court to adopt their seventh — or maybe their eighth — special-needs child.
Irvin works for Pierce County Juvenile Court, coordinating adoptions weekly, and she orchestrates our celebration of National Adoption Day, which was held this year on Friday.
Every November, courts across the country celebrate the finalization of adoptions of kids in the foster care system. Last year nearly 5,000 children nationally were adopted on this special day. It’s a nationwide party!
The need is great. In Washington alone, more than 9,000 kids are in foster care and more than 1,700 are “legally free,” waiting for their forever families to adopt them.
Adopting parents come from all walks of life. Typically they have been foster parents for the child. Frequently they’re relatives.
Single parents adopt. Same-sex couples adopt. Grandparents have a second “go-‘round” by adopting. The common thread is their willingness to make any and all sacrifices to provide a stable, permanent home for a child.
But adopting parents don’t see it as a sacrifice, even if the child was born drug affected or for other reasons has special needs. The child is a blessing to them, not a burden.
Foster kids deserve selfless parents like this. Talk about being dealt a lousy hand. They are born to parents who carry around a stack of personal problems – usually involving drug addiction – and who are unable or (shockingly) unwilling to care for their child.
Typically the kids are impoverished. Sometimes they’re homeless. School truancy is common. Exposure to drugs, domestic violence and grossly substandard living conditions is the norm. Occasionally it gets even worse; some kids are physically or sexually abused by people they trusted.
Adding to the trauma, the state’s representatives are duty bound to take them from the only home they’ve known, however awful it is, for their own good. Maybe they’re placed with relatives, sometimes with total strangers. Maybe they get to live with their siblings, maybe not.
The kids often get bounced around between placements. Many blame themselves. Some are so traumatized, they’re at risk for life-long struggles. Others are amazingly resilient, finding contentment wherever they land. All want to know that they are loved and wanted.
As a judge I too often see people at their worst. But there are certain parts of my job that are just plain fun. Presiding over adoptions is my favorite thing to do. I see people who are ecstatic to enter court. Tears of joy flow freely.
I see people waving big signs with the child’s picture on them. Balloons, flowers and cameras abound. Friends and relatives travel from far away to support a family that is growing. Multiple generations of the family tree proudly identify themselves for me.
The court’s usual decorum is set aside. Heartfelt speeches are made. Comical anecdotes are offered. The parents pledge their love, support and lifelong fidelity to the child. I am most happy to sign the final papers, which always provokes cheering and applause.
With formalities over, I invite the immediate family to join me on the upper bench for photos. The adoptee gets to sit in my chair and wield the gavel. A few kids have been a tad vigorous; I’m amazed that it’s still in one piece.
Across the country we judges give the children teddy bears as a way to make their adoption day even more memorable. I’ll never forget one sweetheart who wanted her little brother to have her bear.
Joan Ganz Cooney, a founder of Sesame Street, once said that “cherishing children is the mark of a civilized society.” Indeed, our society makes its mark on National Adoption Day.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Jerry Costello is the presiding judge of the county’s Juvenile Court.