There are few court actions that generate happy tears, but when a judge signs the final adoption papers, tears will flow every time, sometimes from the judge, too. The courtroom came to the Fairfax County Government Center last Saturday, as the celebration of November as Adoption Awareness Month was highlighted when 10-year-old Alyssa, in party dress and sparkly shoes, formally became little sister to two older brothers and a sister in the Turner family. Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Smith, himself an adoptive parent, regaled the attendees with his experience travelling to Russia, more than 20 years ago, to adopt a young son and daughter. That proceeding was conducted all in Russian, using an interpreter, he said, remembering his apprehension to get through the adoption and safely back to the United States.
In his remarks before signing the official adoption papers, Judge Smith pointed out that, in most court cases, there is a plaintiff and a defender, separated by a v. The v. makes it adversarial – someone against someone else. In adoption cases, there is no v., he said. The case simply is listed as “in the matter of…” since adoption cases are cooperative, not adversarial. The court clerk signed the adoption papers, followed by young Alyssa’s signature and, finally, the judge, to make the adoption official forevermore. Tears and cheers followed, from family members and the audience.
At the age of 10, Alyssa was fortunate to find her forever family. Older children in foster care often “age out” of the system at 18, and are no longer eligible for services. I was reminded of an especially poignant adoption celebration a few years ago, when Judge Jan Brodie signed adoption papers for a 17-and-a-half year old teen who was dangerously close to aging out of the system. Happily, his foster parents decided on adoption, ensuring that he always will have a loving home for birthdays, holidays, and other traditional events that bring friends and family together.
Today in Fairfax County, about 200 children are in foster care. These are youngsters whose worlds often have been turned upside down, need a safe haven in difficult times, come from diverse backgrounds, and feel frightened and alone. All children need support from loving adults, and foster parents can be single, divorced, or married, including LGBTQ couples. Foster parents may receive reimbursement for room and board, clothing, and related expenses, and access to medical and dental care. Training and support are available for foster parents, and many children eventually are able to return safely to their birth families or relatives. For those who cannot, the greatest need is for loving homes for sibling groups and those who are nine years of age or older. The Fairfax County Foster Care and Adoption Program conducts monthly information meetings for those interested in becoming foster parents. For more information, call 703-324-7639.
A lovely poem by Fleur Conkling Heyliger reflects the love and commitment of foster and adoptive parents: “Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, but still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute, you didn’t grow under my heart — but in it.”
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at email@example.com.