Photo Gallery | PHOTOS: National Adoption Day
PITTSFIELD >> There were brightly colored balloons and cupcakes.
The guests wore special dresses, dapper hats and neat sweater vests.
Not the typical fare for Berkshire Juvenile Court; but Friday was no typical day.
Around 70 family members, case workers, public officials, friends and court staff gathered at the North Street facility to celebrate the formation of families in observation of National Adoption Day.
"It marks the finalization," said Rebecca Cook, an adoption supervisor for the Pittsfield Department of Children and Families. "This is a celebration of children being able to be with their forever families."
Seven children, ranging from ages 1 to 13, were adopted by six different families — all but one from Berkshire County.
Annette Santiago, an area DCF program manager, thanked the families for opening their hearts and homes to keep children in the Berkshires versus sending them to various foster homes in the state. "May today only be the beginning of many achievable dreams," she said.
While permanency hearings and adoptions happen year-round, National Adoption Day has been celebrated for the past 13 years in the commonwealth and 16 years in the nation, to help raise awareness of the hundreds of children in the state, and thousands of children across the country waiting for adoption from foster care.
While nearly 55,000 children have left the foster care system to be with permanent families since National Adoption Day began, more than 108,000 children under the age of 18 are currently still waiting for permanent homes.
According to the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE), about 130 children who have been in state foster care were permanently placed with families this National Adoption Day, but many more need forever homes.
"Through no fault of their own, 7,000 children are living in foster care in Massachusetts right now," according to a press statement, "While most will return to their birth parents, over 600 of these youth are waiting for an adoptive family to be found for them."
First Justice Joan M. McMenemy, who formally signed adoption certificates, along with Judges Judith A. Locke and Richard A. Simons, said, "Research shows there are a number of families out there who could adopt, but the key is in trying to connect those families with those children."
Adoptive parents Stephen and Melissa Moro were connected through a kinship adoption from another relative with their new son Jakohbe, aka "Joey," who recently turned 1.
"We're a family of six now," said Melissa, who has three other biological children: Zhander Moro, 3 1/2, Amayah Zimboski, 10, and Rhaeden Zimboski, 21. Jakohbe is the couple's first adopted child.
When the opportunity to adopt came soon after Jakohbe was born, Stephen said that they sat down together and talked about it as a family. "Everyone was open to everything and adopting. We're all very happy and blessed that we did," he said.
Amayah agreed, saying she was happy to celebrate Adoption Day. "I like it because at first we were fostering him, and I didn't want to give him back because I love him."
Zhander, when asked who Jakohbe was, pointed and said with a smile, "My baby brother."
As for big brother Rhaeden, he's got nothing but love for the newest addition to their family. "I just hope he goes far [in life]," he said.
Adoption, as several speakers noted during Friday's ceremony, is not always easy. It can involve the patience and dedication of multiple families and multiple agencies and a very involved and lengthy process.
Adoptive parent and speaker Michelle Nicholas lauded the case and court workers she called her "A-Team," who supported her family by answering questions, guiding them through paperwork and offering emotional support, even after the adoptions of her two children were finalized.
"You face every obstacle together," Nichols said. "The happiness happens, but the worry never goes away. So don't throw away their number."
"Until you go through it, you don't realize the support you have in your caseworkers," said Melissa Moro, who said she was just as nervous and excited through the adoption process as when she was giving birth to her other kids.
"They work really hard," her husband, Stephen, said of their adoption team.
Many of the caseworkers were on hand Friday to offer families gifts and take part in what were their clients' first portraits as legally adoptive families.
Michelle Latimer of Berkshire Juvenile Court said that families adopting these days typically will have less of a wait time than their predecessors in the 1980s.
"Adoptions used to take a very long time, as much as six years, from when the children came into our care until their adoption," she said. "Today the average is about a year and a half."
What makes adoption a long process for children these days is just finding the right families.
"We still desperately need adoptive families," Latimer said.
Adoption resources ...
To learn more about adoption from foster care, contact:
Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange: MAREinc.org or 617-54-ADOPT (617-542-3678)
Berkshire Children & Families: berkshirechildren.org/adoption or 413-584-5690, ext. 132
Adoption through the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families: mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dcf/adoption or 1-800-KIDS-508 (800-543-7508).