While adoptions are finalized all year in Livingston County, Michigan Adoption Day each November aims to shine a light on the importance of adoption and the needs of children in Michigan’s foster care.
Laura Colvin / Livingston Daily
Four children – and one 27-year-old man – left the Livingston County Judicial Center with forever families Tuesday.
Happily sandwiched between her parents in the courtroom, Angelina Arevalo, 11, dissolved into a fit of giggles when her step-dad leaned in and said something, apparently, hilarious.
A few minutes later, the laughter turned to tears of joy when the word “step” was officially removed from Edgar Galindo’s title and the girl he’s raised as his own got a new name: Angelina Arevalo-Galindo.
“We were a family before, but it’s official now,” said Raquel Arevalo, Angelina’s mother, noting she and Galindo married when her daughter was a baby, but that it took her a “long time to realize how important the legal aspect” of fatherhood was to her husband.
“The time is finally here. It’s emotional – so much emotion,” Galindo said.
His daughter explained the courtroom giggling.
“We make each other laugh,” she said, smiling at her dad.
The Arevalo-Galindos were one of four local families to finalize adoptions before Livingston County Probate Judge Miriam Cavanaugh during the annual Michigan Adoption Day event, held each November with the theme “Giving Thanks for Families.”
Cavanaugh said she looks forward each year to the happiness generated during the event.
“My favorite day is Adoption Day; the celebration of forever families,” she said, adding later: “From this seat, I can tell you, families are made in all kinds of ways.”
Cavanaugh was joined on the bench for the occasion by Juvenile Court Referee Chelsea Thomason and Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian Zahra.
Zahra agreed with Cavanaugh’s sentiment, noting, for judges, Adoption Day “…warms our hearts and gives us goosebumps.”
While adoptions are finalized all year in Livingston County, the Michigan Adoption Day events are designed to shine a light on the importance of adoption and the needs of children in Michigan’s foster care.
“Adoptions are being finalized in 30 Michigan counties today…but there are still children wanting of a permanent, loving home,” Zahra said, noting some 12,600 kids are currently in the state’s foster care system. Of those, some 300 have no hope for reunification with parents and need a forever family.
On Tuesday, 18-month-old Paulie officially left the foster care system with a new last name – Russell – provided by Erin and Chris Russell of Howell.
Inspired by family members who were doing the same, the couple became foster parents to Paulie’s big brother, Gavin, now 4, in 2013 and adopted him two years ago.
“We tried for a while to conceive after we were married,” Erin Russell said. “Then we thought, ‘You know what? That’s OK; there are lots of kids out there who need a family.”
While certain aspects of fostering have been frustrating – an hours’ notice on the arrival of a child and unannounced visits from caseworkers, for example, both said they wouldn’t trade the boys for anything.
“There are times that are stressful and tough,” said Chris Russell, as a toddler wrapped his arms around Russell’s neck. “But it’s all worth it.”
“People say ‘They’re so lucky to be with you,’” his wife added, noting support from family and friends has been immeasurable during the process. “We say, ‘No, no, no. We’re blessed to have them. They have a home and a family, and that’s what every kid deserves.’”
Dakota Steward, 27, of Brighton, was last to be adopted at Tuesday’s hearing.
Wendy Economides told the judge she met Steward when he was 6 as she began dating his father, who she married when Steward was 9.
Her husband died in 2013.
“Dakota has always been my son,” Economides said. “Before he died, my husband made me promise I would never give up the role of being Dakota’s mother. I told him, ‘You don’t have to make me promise.’”
Outside the courtroom, Steward said his father’s death left him with an uneasy feeling.
“When my dad died…I didn’t have anyone left,” he said. “She’s always been my real mother, but in the back of my head I still felt like I didn’t have any real family. I wanted to make it legal.”
‘The emotional piece’
Jeffrey Johnson, a 44th Circuit Court Family Division adoption caseworker, said adult adoptions make the adoptee a legal heir, but don’t otherwise change much in the practical sense.
“Adult adoptions typically happen with someone who has been a part of the person’s life, like a step-parent, since the person was young,” Johnson said. “It’s more about the emotional piece…and having that legal connection recognized.”
Johnson organized the Adoption Day event and said it’s something he looks forward to every year.
“It’s always fun doing adoptions, not just on adoption day,” he said. “Sometimes it gets very emotional.
“Especially in foster care, where we may have seen the kids for the whole duration of the case, it’s always nice to see the kids walking out knowing that family will be with them the rest of their lives. It’s very nice to see.”
Contact reporter Laura Colvin at 517-552-2848 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @LauraColvin22
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