Five children finalized their adoptions just in time for Thanksgiving.
At any given time, the state of Michigan has 14,000 children in the foster care system. But during the week of Thanksgiving, some of those local children found a place to go home to for the holidays.
Both Allegan and Ottawa county courts participated in Michigan Adoption Day, an initiative by the Michigan Supreme Court to raise awareness of the adoption process and the need for adoptive families.
At the Allegan County courthouse, five children went home to four families on Wednesday, Nov. 22. The courtroom was decorated in balloons and every surface was covered in stuffed animals. Each family member got to bang a gavel, making the adoptions official.
George Flokstra, who adopted his grandchildren, Audrey and David, said he wasn’t expecting such a party in the courtroom.
“We felt a little overwhelmed, which makes it such a happy thing,” Flokstra said.
Family members, church officials, adoption agency workers and friends made Judge Michael Buck’s courtroom celebration standing-room only. As each family took their turn making the adoptions official, speeches from family members brought tears to many eyes in the courtroom.
“This is a day for happy tears,” Buck said. “In most cases, people are not happy about why they have to come to court. Adoptions are the exception — a positive, fun occasion for families, the court, Department of Human Services staff, local agency personnel and especially the children.”
Kaydence Krystiniak, who was officially adopted by her stepfather during the ceremony, has been practicing how to spell her new last name for weeks.
“We counted down each day on the calendar,” said Tamara Krystiniak, Kaydence’s mother. “She’s been telling everyone that would listen that she’s getting adopted. I don’t even know how to word it, it’s extremely exciting.”
The adoption ceremony holds particular meaning to Krystiniak, who was adopted. Her father, Kaydence’s grandfather, was also adopted.
“Kaydence is third-generation adopted now,” Krystiniak said. “It was really unexpected to continue this from generation to generation, but it’s so neat. We’ve waited a really long time for this.”
Each adopted child left the courtroom with a new stuffed animal, a balloon, a plastic turkey toy from Buck and the gavel used to declare their adoption official.
At Ottawa County courts, a different type of adoption celebration took place on Tuesday, Nov. 21. With no children waiting to be adopted, the court decided to hold a luncheon to thank local adoption workers for their efforts.
“This year, all of the adoptions that we’ve had over the last few months, families were so anxious that they didn’t want to wait for Adoption Day, so we actually don’t have any cases on the docket,” said Kevin Bowling, Ottawa County court administrator.
While Judge Mark Feyen said he missed the special moments with newly adopted children, celebrating adoption workers was a welcome substitute.
“This is overdue,” Feyen said. “I don’t think we’ve had the opportunity to do this and honor these adoption workers, and it’s something we need to do. We used to characterize this as giving thanks for adoption, but today we give thanks for the adoption workers. To me, it’s a completion of a journey.”
Next year, though, Feyen hopes to have children back in his courtroom on Michigan Adoption Day.
“To me, interacting with the families and the kids is so special,” he said. “We’d love to have more adoptions and more kids next year.”
—Follow this reporter on Twitter @SentinelAudra.