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Families adopt 32 children on National Adoption Day at the Baltimore Circuit Court

Messiah Lanier didn’t understand the proceedings before three judges in a Baltimore courtroom on Saturday, but the toddler apparently knew it meant something big.

“We did it!” the 2-year-old shouted, jumping up and down, as he and his 5-year-old brother were greeted with applause and cheers in a packed courtroom. They’d just been newly adopted by Elladonna Lanier of Belair-Edison.

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The family, surrounded by members of their church, was one of 32 taking part in adoption proceedings at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse. The event, similar to others occurring in courtrooms around the state and nation, marked National Adoption Day, which draws attention to the need for permanent families for children in foster care.

“It was an awesome journey of love,” said Lanier, who became a foster mother, then pursued adopting the boys — a relative’s sons — to prevent them staying in the foster system. She plans “just to love them. We just want to love them.”

National Adoption Day aims to raise awareness of the more than 125,000 children waiting to be adopted from foster care in the U.S. A coalition of adoption and children’s advocates started the day in 2000 when they encouraged cities to open their courts on or around the Saturday before Thanksgiving to finalize and celebrate adoptions from foster care.

The day is important in Baltimore City, which counts nearly 1,700 children in the foster system, from infants up to age 20, said Terri Alston, program manager for adoption and guardianship for the Baltimore City Department of Social Services.

“We want all of our children that come to foster care that are not able to go back to their original families to have a forever home, where they grow up and are loved just like any other child," Alston said. “Since foster care is supposed to be temporary, we really try to get our children to a permanent home.”

Bridget and Arthur Williams have been foster parents and hoping to adopt for about six years. Two children who came to their northeast Baltimore home previously through foster care were both reunited with their families. Then Alexander, now 2, came to them at 2 days old.

“It’s been a process,” Bridget Williams said, with the toddler’s birth mother changing her mind several times about placing him for adoption. “It’s been a long wait, and it’s finally over. He’s finally ours.”

Circuit Administrative Judge W. Michel Pierson and judges Emanuel Brown and Kendra Y. Ausby took turns calling each family to stand before them. They declared petitioners to be “fit and proper parents," read out the child’s new legal name and welcomed each to his or her “forever” family.

Some children fidgeted or waved to the judges. Brown waved back. The children ranged in age from 1 to 14. Before leaving the courtroom with her family, Sage Harris, a 4-year-old in a pink tulle skirt, looked up to the judge’s bench and called out “thank you.”

Sage’s parents, Dawnyell Harris and Jerry Haskins, have cared for about a dozen children over 16 years as foster parents, with some staying just a week or two. Three years ago, Sage came to live with them and has grown up knowing she has two moms — Harris and her birth mother. The couple also adopted their older daughter, Kristyna, 14, from foster care in Baltimore City, a decade ago.

“There are so many kids in need of love and attention, and it doesn’t have to come from your birth parent to get that,” Harris said.

Marsha Harrison of Windsor Mill recalled how she picked up Cordero, now 18 months, at the hospital at just 3 weeks old and became his foster mother. She and her husband, Inglebert, have three children, ages 20, 17 and 9, all of whom attended Saturday with about 20 family members, some from as far away as Jamaica.

While in foster care with the Harrisons, Cordero was supposed to be reunited with his grandmother, but his grandmother died, Harrison said.

“We did everything that we could,” to keep him, said Harrison.

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Children typically come into the foster system in the city as a result of a charge of abuse or neglect.

“It’s traumatic,” Alston said. “They have gone through the trauma and adjustment of not being with their family.”

In some cases, open adoptions work well with birth parents involved in the child’s life, Alston said.

National Adoption Day is a good way to remind people of the need for foster families, she said. Children in foster care can be adopted after at least six months and if birth parents’ rights have been terminated.

“Once people learn about it and open their mind to it, a lot of people will consider it,” Alston said.

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