Wearing matching black dresses with white polka dots, Sierra, 16, and Maureen, 49, grinned for the cameras Saturday morning, as they waited for their turn to finalize Sierra’s adoption.
They joined 38 families at the Ramsey County Juvenile and Family Justice Center to celebrate the 18th annual National Adoption Day.
Organized in 2000, the event brings courts and communities together to finalize thousands of adoptions of children from foster care and raise awareness of the 110,000 children still waiting to be adopted.
“I’ve been in foster care for 16 years of my life,” said Sierra, who asked that her last name not be used.
She will be 17 on Thanksgiving Day and said she has much to be thankful for this year.
“Now I have a mom,” she said, smiling up at Maureen who reminded her that not only was she getting a mother, she was getting two grandmas and an aunt and an uncle as well.
Her social worker, Marion Suma, had worked two years to find Sierra a family.
“She came in due to severe negligence,” Suma said. “We struggled. She always wanted to be adopted.”
Eventually Suma paired her up with Maureen, who had been adopted as an infant and had always longed to adopt a child herself.
“It was an instant connection,” Suma said.
Sierra agreed. “When I saw her, I felt like I was coming home,” she said.
Maureen was overjoyed to have a lifelong dream come true.
“They say this is unusual, but it’s like I already knew her,” Maureen said. “We had so much in common. It’s unbelievable.”
When asked why she would adopt someone who may be leaving in a year, she explained that home is still important.
“Even if she goes away to college, she still has a home to come home to,” she said.
For the event, the fourth floor of the courthouse was turned into a kids’ party, with meeting rooms relabeled as “The Fishing Room,” “The Coloring Room,” and “Friendship Bracelet Room.”
A table of goodies included three cakes, with “Congratulations Families” inscribed in frosting.
A short program incorporated speeches by Ramsey County commissioners Toni Carter, Victoria Reinhardt and Jim McDonough, as well as Judge Patrick Diamond, who congratulated the families and urged others to consider adoption, particularly of older children.
“The fear of not having family around us is real,” Commissioner Carter said. “It causes trauma.”
Social workers always try to place the children with relatives, deputy county manager Ryan O’Connor said.
In fact, of the 48 children adopted Saturday, 70 percent were being adopted by family members.
Delinia Parris of St. Paul fell into that category. She adopted her 3-year-old grandson and 10-year-old granddaughter to protect them from her daughter’s chaotic lifestyle. She has raised her grandchildren but had no legal authority over them. So when her daughter got out of jail and took them away, she could do nothing about it.
“I was terrified,” Parris said. “She had never taken care of children before.”
She said the adoption was bittersweet.
“It’s been a roller coaster. I don’t get to be grandma and fill them with sugar. I have to raise them,” she said.
But, she preferred taking care of them herself to adopting them out.
“They are my children,” she said. “I can’t imagine giving them to someone else.”
The celebration at the Family Justice Center was a happy one, partly because of the many struggles the social workers, adoptive parents and children had to go through to get to that point.
“It’s challenging work,” O’Connor said. “Today is one of those good days.”
More than 300 events are held each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. In total, more than 40,000 children have been adopted from foster care on National Adoption Day.