Every third Saturday in November there is organized chaos at the Butler County Probate Court when forever families are sealed with a mass adoption celebration for National Adoption Day.
This year eight children were scheduled for court proceedings before Probate Court Judge John Holcomb and Magistrate Maria McBride to officially become members of six families. Holcomb said it is it fitting the ceremony is set just before Thanksgiving.
“it’s always special to get these adoptions finalized for the families to go into the holiday season, as a complete family with a final adoption,” Holcomb said. “It’s heartwarming to see the joy that is expressed at these hearings. I like to say that everything that happens down at the courthouse is bad with the exception of adoptions.”
Christina and Richard Bennett of Liberty Twp. had a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. to adopt two 8-year-olds, Ashlynn and Brayden, they have now adopted seven children into their already large family. They have four biological children — Austin, 23, McKenna, 20 and 14-year-old twins Samantha and Tyler — legal custody of 6-year-old Elijah and consider two of their former foster children still part of the family, Richard said “that puts us at 12 officially but 14 in our minds and hearts.”
“It’s definitely hard, but we’re talking about people’s lives so it’s definitely worth it,” Christina said and her husband chimed in with “I’ve always told everybody it’s the hardest most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, but sometimes we have to put our own selfishness aside and do what’s right for the kids.”
She said growing up there was a family on her street who adopted a child and she always thought she’s like to do that but when she was pregnant with their twins, “Richard was insistent that was it, that was done, we were finished.”
He said he started seeing advertisements on park benches and billboards about fostering, “I always thought it would be neat and honestly one day I came home and said let’s foster, I just kind of fell into line.”
They adopted 15-year-old Eli in 2014 and Abigail, 12, William, 14 and Isaiah, 15 on National Adoption Day in November 2016. Savannah, 13, joined the clan last year.
Butler County Job and Family Services Executive Director Julie Gilbert said National Adoption Day is a great reason to celebrate since their ultimate goal if to find “permanency” for the children in their care.
“For those who are not able to go back to their homes with their families or with relatives, this is a day of celebration for those kids who are looking for their forever families,” Gilbert said. “This is a just a wonderful day for our adoptive families and our children and our staff. It’s just a day of celebration where these kids can finally have a sense of true belonging and that permanency we want for them.”
Theresa Copper, permanency administrator for Butler County Children Services, told the Journal-News another family is adopting a sibling set — Ashlynn an Brayden aren’t biological siblings but have been living as such with the Bennetts while in foster care — and with this large group they have placed 38 children with what they call their “forever families” already this year.
She said they hope to finalize a few more by year’s end so they could end up with nearly 45 adoptions. BCCS finalized 47 adoptions last year, down significantly from 91 in 2016, just prior to the pandemic in 2019 there were 87.
The numbers are reflective of the number of children in BCCS custody, the average number of children in custody was 448 in 2014, the number dropped to 397 in 2016, last year is was 355 and Gilbert said as of Nov. 10 the number was 317. Included in that number is 280 kids in paid placement and 37 living with family members. There were only 16 kids in kinship arrangements in 2016.
Cooper said the goal is always to keep kids within their families and their teams do a really good job of locating relatives before taking children into legal custody, which plays into lower adoption numbers.
“They do an amazing job looking for families and investigating and reaching our, where a birth parent might say there isn’t anybody, well generally there’s somebody, there’s always somebody,” Cooper said.
“Spending our time searching for families through search engines we have here at the agency is invaluable to how the numbers play out. Kids belong with family, only should they come into foster care if we don’t have safe family for them.”
Cooper said the Bennetts have been such a valuable asset to the agency in so many ways, but probably the most critical attribute is their willingness to allow birth parents to maintain a relationship with their children, “we’re saying make them a part of your world to the best of your ability because it’s what’s best for kids and the Bennetts absolutely show that every placement they get.”
Richard is the missions pastor at the One Church and Christina is a stay-at-home mom. She said they wouldn’t be able to handle their brood without a team effort, including her mom, their church and others.
“I’m grateful that we have a really good support system that helps keep me sane when I feel like losing it, it helps us to what we do because it does take a lot of people, I couldn’t do it myself,” she said adding it does get hectic but it’s a little easier because they have “groups” who are the same age “so they’re all doing the same things.”
Cooper said adoptive children with identified special needs can qualify for adoption assistance which includes Medicaid for the child and a monthly subsidy that is negotiated with the family and based on the needs of the child. A typical subsidy amount ranges from $300 to $400 per month.
BCCS is always looking people willing to become foster/adoptive parents, they currently have a roster of 173 licensed foster families. Richard said about 50 foster children have “come through our church, I won’t say cause of us I think everybody kind of realized it isn’t that hard to do.”
The two said it is a little aggravating when people say they don’t want to foster because they would get too attached, they say the goal should always be reunification of birth families if it’s safe.
“We didn’t get into this for adoption but even if we had, I would hope that my mentality would still be if it’s safe and if it’s doable reunification, and if it’s not I’m here,” Christina said. “Because adoption is a beautiful thing but it’s also a traumatic thing... yes it’s wonderful to be adopted in a way but that means you’re losing your first family.”
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