By Tim Durkin, Baptist Family & Children’s Services
COLUMBIA, Md.—Standing in line, waiting to clear the metal detectors, gives you time to orient yourself to the Juvenile Justice Center on Gay Street in Baltimore. It is a democratizing experience: everyone in line is equal. Social workers, teachers, young men and women summoned to hearings, public- and privately-funded defenders, we all enter the building the same way.
For many (if not most), a trip to the Juvenile Justice Center is no happy occasion. The building hosts court hearings for young men and women charged with crimes, a booking facility for the Baltimore City Police, and 144 beds for delinquent youths requiring detention.
But once a month, one of the Center’s courtrooms is the site of unalloyed joy.
On May 5, 2010, about 75 men, women, and children filled a third-floor courtroom. More than 15 children and their adoptive mothers and fathers gathered to forge new families in the eyes of the law.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a Baltimore City Sheriff announced before the ceremony got underway, “please make as much room as possible for people to sit on the benches. Everybody get close! Today is a good day.”
So all of Baltimore, it seemed, packed into the tiny courtroom, squeezed together to accommodate each other and await the presence of the judge. The clerk of the court rose to say how different the rules for this courtroom were from the usual. “Please,” he said, “make as much noise as you like. Let the children roam around the room if they want to. Normally, we would ask that everyone keep still and quiet when court is in session. But not today. Today is your day.”
Two social workers from Baltimore City’s Department of Social Service worked the room, checking in with parents and letting them know where to sit and stand when called forward by the judge.
The hearing that these families gathered to attend is a ceremonial capstone to a long legal process. All of the hard work has been done well ahead of time, the family assessments done and reviewed, the child’s legal relationship to their birth parents ended. A social relationship with those original parents may continue, at the discretion of the adoptive parents.
More minutes ticked by as people waited for the judge to arrive. Those assembled chatted and watched the younger children explore the courtroom, crawling under the benches and the tables placed at the head of the room. Families took pictures, the older children looking bashful and preening by turns. The youngest adoptee in the room was probably three years old, and the oldest on this particular day was around twelve.
It seemed that everyone old enough to know how to spell typed text messages into their cell phones.
People rose to their feet as the judge, a thin, white-haired man in large black robes, entered the room. He carried with him a stuffed animal: a yellow lab-type dog. He asked everyone to sit, introduced himself as Robert Kershaw, and let the assembled know that the dog’s name was “Spot.”
The judge began calling families before him, one at a time. Each family member was asked to state their name for the record, including the children about to be adopted.
Families of all kinds and configurations came forward. There were single moms, single dads and married couples. The courtroom held Caucasian families, African American families and interracial ones. Children were accompanied by tattooed parents in cutoff jeans, while one father wore an impeccable blue Navy uniform heavy with ribbons.
The families were all backed by a support staff of social workers, attorneys and photographers, not to mention aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
Each family’s time before the judge was basically similar. The judge looked through the child’s case file and declared that the proper procedures had been followed. He made a formal declaration that the adoption was official, congratulated the child on his or her new family, and elicited a round of applause from the rest of the courtroom. Older children thanked him as they turned to leave. The youngest smiled at the applause, trying to figure out what all the commotion was about. One wide-eyed little girl asked her mother “what did he just say?” as if she had been taken by surprise.
Baptist Family’s CHOSEN Treatment Foster Care program celebrated two adoptions, as T.J. and Tina Terra adopted two young men. Jayson Barksdale and Thomas Rampley became Brett and Bryce Terra. The boys applauded along with the rest of the courtroom as their new family became official, and smiled during pictures taken with the judge.
Overall, seven CHOSEN children have been adopted into new families in the last twelve months.
Foster care is a good first step on the path to adoption. If you are thinking about adoption, consider beginning that journey as a foster parent.
To learn more, contact Baptist Family’s Parent Recruitment Office at (800) 621-8834, ext. 101, or visit www.baptistfamily.org/chosen.