There were several beaming faces Wednesday as Bartholomew Juvenile Magistrate Brittney Newland granted petitions from two couples to adopt new family members as part of National Adoption Day at the Bartholomew County Courthouse.
“We’re here for some fun stuff,” Newland said upon entering the courtroom. Her assessment was reinforced with colorful cupcakes and gift bags handed out to each child.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday was Columbus’ first observance of National Adoption Day in three years. During the 2019 observance in Bartholomew County, six families participated.
Up until Wednesday, 4-year-old Allison and 6-year-old Kaylee were the nieces of Heather Mattingly of Hope. But family bonds grew stronger after the girls moved in with her aunt and her partner, Kelsay Malson.
At the conclusion of Wednesday’s court hearing, the children took the same last name as their aunt: Mattingly. However, Newland said the law now considers the girls the adopted daughters of the same-sex couple.
“It was a long process, and I’m just a little impatient,” Heather Mattingly said. “But our attorney, Alex Whitted, did everything for us.
Although adoptions involve an extensive amount of paperwork, Whitted said his main focus was always to make sure the couple’s adoption request met all of Indiana’s statutes.
“I’m just thankful I was able to help them through this process,’ Whitted said.
While organizers say National Adoption Day strives to increase awareness about the value of adoption, Malson sees another important function served by the nationwide observance.
“It’s good because people can see that all families are a family,” Malson said. “It doesn’t matter what type of family you have.”
When asked what she liked most about her new parents, Kaylee smiled from ear-to-ear.
“Everything!” the little girl said.
In legal terms, the adoption of Allison and Kaylee is considered a natural adoption. However, the third and final adoption of the morning included input from the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) and Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
Mike and Cathy French of Columbus have had custody of 3-year-old Charlotte since she was 6-months-old. Like Allison and Kaylee, Charlotte has blood ties with one of her adoptive parents.
“We have known Charlotte since she was born,” Mike French said. “But being a foster parent is a roller-coaster. It’s been a little scary at times.”
The placement of the toddler with the couple was originally considered a kinship replacement, Cathy French said. In such arrangements, relatives are the preferred resource for children who are not in the custody of their birth parents. Experts say kinship replacements help maintain the children’s connections with their families, increases stability, and overall minimizes the trauma of family separation.
However, Cathy French said she found the arrangement “a little unnerving” because neither she nor her husband were sure what role they were supposed to play in the child’s life, as well as their rights. In addition, she and her husband received regular visits from child welfare workers and were forced to abide by travel restrictions.
“Up until now, we had to get permission from the biological parent for any trip out-of-state,” Mike French. “We have family in South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and Oregon.”
A temporary complication emerged when one of Charlotte’s biological parents began having second thoughts about giving up custody, CASA volunteer Cathy Beaman said.
But it’s not just the parents. Kids also have mixed emotions about being placed permanently with another family, DCS spokeswoman Julie Bonadventure said. That’s why adoptive parents are urged to, if possible, take some time to remember the child’s birth family and birth culture as they mature, she said.
“But I think everyone now believes (the French) adoption is in everyone’s best interest,” Beaman said.
That includes Mike and Cathy French’s two biological children, ages 32 and 30.
At the end of the last fiscal year, there were 3,179 children in Indiana’s 92 counties waiting for adoption. Nationally, the figure is about 115,000 kids.
About National Adoption Day
National Adoption Day is a collective effort to raise awareness of the more than 115,000 children waiting to be adopted from foster care in the U.S. A coalition of national partners (the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Alliance for Children’s Rights and Children’s Action Network) founded National Adoption Day.
On Nov. 18, 2000, the coalition and the Freddie Mac Foundation encouraged nine cities to open their courts on or around the Saturday before Thanksgiving to finalize and celebrate adoptions from foster care. Today, there are more than 400 communities who take part in the observance.
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