YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakima County Juvenile Justice Center was alive with activity with dozens of children running and playing, sparkly balloons floating through the air, and brightly colored cupcakes and candy.
Friday was National Adoption Day, and in Yakima some 20 children officially became new members of families.
One of those families is the now eight-member Beckmans.
In December 2015, Jason Beckman walked into his house and said to his wife, Rochelle, “If we’re ever going to (adopt children), we need to do it now because we’re not getting any younger.”
That came after years of dragging his feet, worried about possible threats to his family’s security that could come with adopting someone else’s children.
But that worry was overcome by their desire to spread love to children born into bad situations.
As a result, Friday marked one full year that the Beckmans and their three biological children — ages 19, 20 and 22 — had been living with 7-year-old Baylor, 5-year-old Megan and 3-year-old Anneliese. Now they can’t imagine life without them.
“They bring a ton of joy into our home,” Rochelle Beckman said after a court commissioner told her family they could legally adopt the siblings. “Not that everything is easy, but it’s getting easier. They just have brought lots of smiles and laughter and excitement to our family.”
While nearly all stories are as joyous, everyone takes a different path to adoption.
Arielle Vlahos was working in a boys’ group home when she met Jacob, who is now 14. She already had two sons, now ages 11 and 13. But when she was given a notice that Jacob was moving to a different place because he broke too many rules, she did everything possible to legally adopt him.
“Because of Jacob’s behavior challenges, there’s different certifications that are needed,” said Vlahos’ social worker, Kelsey Stephens. These issues come, in part, from the “extreme” challenges and near-death experiences Jacob has faced in his short life.
Social workers and families generally can’t reveal specific details about a child’s biological family or life, and Stephens wouldn’t elaborate about Jacob’s experiences. But she noted that many people won’t suffer similar circumstances throughout their entire lives.
Despite Jacob’s tumultuous childhood and the additional hurdles to adopt a particularly challenging child, Arielle Vlahos and her husband, Chris, never gave up. And when Jacob learned the two were working to adopt him, his behavior started to change as he worked to make the “right decisions” so he could go home with the Vlahoses.
“If someone told me a year ago that (Jacob) would be adopted, I would say, ‘You’re crazy. That’s never happening,’” Stephens said. “This story is something that doesn’t normally happen. It’s magical.”
Every new family changes their adopted child’s life. But Stephens believes Arielle and Chris saved Jacob’s life and gave him a second chance for the future.
Friday’s ceremony lasted nearly four hours. Each family took the stand, answered a few questions about their abilities as a parent, and collected assorted goodies — balloons, a teddy bear, popcorn balls and chocolate-covered pretzels.
While 20 adoptions in Yakima County and more than 150 statewide is something to celebrate, Baylor, Megan, Anneliese and Jacob are just four examples of the more than 1,700 foster children in Washington state who are legally eligible to be adopted into new families. More children are being added each day.
“Families form a bedrock of nurturing and support from which children thrive into adulthood,” said King County Superior Court Judge Dean Lum, chair of the Washington State National Adoption Day Steering Committee. “Families are critical to healthy futures and healthy communities.”