Hewitt resident Wendi Jones was all grins Friday holding her newly adopted daughter, 17-month-old Camri.
Jones has fostered several children over the years, she said, surrounded by her four other children.
“We just always prayed that if God wanted us to adopt that we would adopt,” she said. “We’re excited if you can’t tell.”
A total of 22 families, including Jones’, adopted more than 30 children Friday as part of the 11th annual Adoption Day celebration hosted by the Baylor Law School’s Public Interest Legal Society and the Department of Family and Child Protective Services.
Dressed as an elf to match the “I’ll be Home for Christmas” theme for this year’s event, Baylor law professor Bridget Fuselier said she is honored to have played a part in about 300 adoptions in the past decade. She is the sponsor of Baylor’s Public Interest Legal Society.
Adoption Day is part of a nationwide effort to call attention to the more than 117,000 foster children across the country waiting for adoption, Fuselier said. There are 30,000 children in foster care in Texas, including almost 4,000 waiting for adoption.
Miracles unfolded in the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center on Friday, Law School Dean Brad Toben said.
Local CPS Judge Nikki Mundkowsky heard from caseworkers, attorneys and family members testifying about the children up for adoption and the families’ desire to adopt, in a room decorated in Christmas lights, trees and presents surrounding the bench. Student volunteers dressed as snowmen and elves looked on.
Fuselier said she is thrilled with how the festivities have grown year after year. She started the event in 2008 after handling an adoption pro bono each year in her law practice. Each year the event is organized around a child-friendly theme, and the law building is decorated, students wear costumes, and the families receive themed cakes and gift baskets.
The event offers a happier alternative setting to the county courtrooms where children were formally removed from their parents, Fuselier said.
“I thought everything bad that’s happened has been there, and so on the happiest day, why not bring them to a different location where it can just be joy and happiness?” she said. “The more happiness we can have the better.”
Many of the children adopted Friday had been in foster care for several years. For many who work with the children through the system, Adoption Day is the day they are able to replenish their mental and spiritual reserves to continue their important work, said Andrea Barnett, adoption supervisor for the McLennan County Department of Family and Child Protective Services office.
Criselda and Domonic Guerrero expanded their immediate family by two Friday.
Sophie, 2, and Jeremiah, 3, were already a part of the extended family, a niece and nephew, Criselda Guerrero said.
“Their mother just isn’t in a good place,” Criselda Guerrero said, pushing away tears. “We thought we were done. Our baby is 12 and we have one in college and now we’re starting all over.”
In the Kronzer Courtroom at Baylor, Mundkowsky encouraged the newly adopted children to stand beside her and bang her gavel on the desk to signify the completion of their adoption.
Mundkowsky said being a small part of a system that can give a child a loving, safe and supportive family that every child deserves is a great honor and the highlight of her job.
“It is truly incredible to see and feel the culmination of the department’s work, in conjunction with the work of attorneys, others and families on Adoption Day,” she said.
China Spring resident Amie Ladd returned to Baylor Law School on Friday to adopt the sister of a child she adopted in 2015.
Ladd said CPS contacted her about adopting the recently born girl to keep the siblings together. Just five days after Mia was born, she was in the Ladd home. Now 13 months old, Mia’s adoption was made official Friday.
“It was important that they stay together as siblings so we opened our home back up and took sister in,” she said. “I think the department really wants to keep children together. Sibling bond is very important. To have them together forever is a great feeling. To know that they never have to be separated, even if they don’t have the same smile as me or the same hair color as me, they will have each other.”
To support future Adoptions Day programs, email Fuselier at email@example.com.