By James Cullum
November is National Adoption Month, a period meant to raise awareness about adopting children and foster care adoption. Last Saturday, Alexandria celebrated its own Adoption Day. At the Alexandria Courthouse, more than a dozen families gathered with their adopted children.
It was a rare moment for the court. While Alexandria’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Chief Judge Constance Frogale spoke, she was interrupted by the piercing cries of small children, and she loved it.
Recently, Alexandrians Cherie and Keith Smith adopted two-year-old Antonio. The couple are also the parents of a biological daughter and an adopted daughter. “My first birth was very difficult for me, and we wanted to still have children. The best bet was to go ahead and adopt, and we now have three beautiful kids,” Cherie Smith said.
Standing with her three adopted children, Valerie Shuford said, “The only one I intentionally adopted was my daughter, but then we started foster care and the boys came along, and we kept them. And our lives are completely changed and better because of it.”
“This is a new beginning for everyone. Courtroom interruptions are excused,” Frogale said. “Today is the day for the quiet heroes in the room today who have to make decisions on what to do in their children’s lives and all of the responsibilities and challenges it takes to be parents.”
Said Alexandria’s mayor, Bill Euille, “This is a historic moment in the lives of these children and their families. Most times in the courtroom, there are not a lot of cheers or happiness, but today is one of those days when we can be human and let loose and let the tears flow.”
This year in Alexandria, “we had 27 children finalized for adoption this year, and that’s an unprecedented amount,” said Debra Collins, Assistant City Manager for Health and Human Services.
According to the proclamation read by the mayor, as of Oct. 1, 2008, there are approximately 500,000 children nationally, 7,465 children in Virginia, and 205 children in the city of Alexandria, who are in foster care or are unable to return to live with their biological parents.
Adoption is an exhausting process. While mandatory background checks and a home study is conducted, prospective parents jump through legal and jurisdictional hoops, sometimes traveling halfway around the world to adopt a child. Costs for adopting a child vary from $0 to $40,000. For foster parents, costs can add up to $2,500, according to the Child Welfare League of America.
“A lot of these families and kids have gone through a lot. Today is very exciting,” said Suzette Barclay, an adoption social worker who has finalized more than 100 adoptions for the City.
“For me, this is one of the best days of the year,” said Greta Rosenzweig, an adoption and foster care supervisor for the City. “It’s a reunion and a launching of these families into their lives now as an adopted family without their connection to social services.”