A young girl in a brown dress and Wonder Woman cape approached the bench the east courtroom at the Grayson County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon. Once there, she grasped the hands of the woman and man who stood on either side of her. Just a few words and minutes later those three people and a young boy became a new family.
The smile that filled the girl’s face was reflected all around the courtroom on the faces of the other children and adults there to celebrate National Adoption Day in Grayson County. In all, six families adopted eight children during the ceremony.
In 2016, there were 4,700 children adopted on National Adoption Day around the country according to information released by the Dave Thomas Foundation.
Some of the adoptive parents were the biological grandparents of the children they adopted. One woman was the aunt of the boy she adopted and some adoptive parents had been their children’s foster parents. Either way, they all left that courtroom newly recognized family units.
Rayburn Nall Jr., retired judge of the 59th state District Court, said he has conducted National Adoption Day services in the past and it is one of his favorite days of the year.
“It is because of the parents out there that are stepping up. I say this every year, but you are my hero.” Nall added.
He said he wishes there were 100,000 more people like those who had come into the court Wednesday to accept new children into their lives and homes.
Those parents, he said, are giving those children a second chance. That chance might just keep those kids from returning the courtroom later on life in a less wonderful way, he said.
For one family who appeared before Nall Wednesday, their journey to Adoption Day started years ago in another state.
“We had fostered before when we lived in Missouri,” Sandi McKenzie said. “We had tried to adopt at that point,” she said, but it didn’t work out. So with their daughter Taylor grown, the couple decided to give it one more try.
She said they became certified to foster with an eye toward adoption. Though the couple has had as many as six foster children living in their home with them, the family that they finalized Wednesday started out with one boy. Then they found out that boy had a brother and they welcomed that child into their home as well. Over time, they realized that the boys needed to remain with them permanently.
“You have to look at everything involved. I highly encourage people if they could, to make the commitment to adopt,” Sandi McKenzie said.
It is a lengthy process. “You have to make a commitment,” Sandi McKenzie said. It took about a year and a half for the couple to be able to adopt the two boys.
“It has to be a good fit,” Doug McKenzie said. He said they knew the boys were that fit quickly.
Sandi McKenzie said because of the twists and turns in the legal system, they had to just take that year and a half one day at a time.
“As foster or adoptive parents,” she said, “you don’t look too far ahead because these cases take a twist from one day to the next. So you get up and you do your day. You get the kids to day care or you get them to school and you take care of them the best that you can and you hope that someday the answer will come back that you can adopt.”
Her husband added, “You treat them just like you do your own kids and they are part of your family.”
The couple’s daughter, Taylor, joined her parents as they took on two young children at a time when most people their age are happily waiting on grandchildren.
She said it is supposed to work out so that the foster family knows before they get a child if that child will be available for adoption at some point. However, she said, that is not always the case. Sometimes, she said, the paperwork doesn’t keep up with the changes in the case. So, foster families have to just start with love and know that those children will either be able to remain with them and grow in that love or take that love with them on their journey whether that be on to a family member, parent, or another placement.
Debra Brown, with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said the McKenzies were just one of 90 foster homes in Grayson County but more are needed.
“There are over 200 children in care and some of them have to be transferred to other areas,” Brown added.
The DFPS webpage says that the first step is an informational meeting that will spell out the basic requirements for becoming a foster parent or adopting.
Those requirements include being at least 21 years old, financially stable, and responsible. One must complete an application and be willing to share information about one’s background and lifestyle including any marriages or divorces and undergo a criminal-background check and an abuse or neglect check. Those who meet those requirements will then be invited to meet with DFPS staff to see if fostering or adoption is right for the family. Next the family undergoes training to learn more about the children available through DFPS. Additionally, the family must complete additional training and undergo a home study to become eligible to foster or adopt.