Montgomery County Adoption Day: ‘We’ve all gotten what we’re looking for’

Longtime foster parent Crystal Cook said adoption was not part of her life plan. But when Jayce, now 3, came into her home as an infant, it was a connection of a different kind.

“I want him to have everything he needs in life to be successful,” she told Montgomery County Probate Judge David Brannon on Thursday while Jayce clutched onto her arm.

Jayce’s adoption, as well as the adoption of 13 other children, was finalized on Thursday at the Montgomery County Courthouse in a day of back-to-back adoption hearings.

Thursday was National Adoption Day. More than 100 children in Montgomery County are still waiting for their forever homes, according to Montgomery County Children Services.

Last year, 70 adoptions were finalized locally. So far in 2023, 72 adoptions have been completed or are set for completion.

Brannon said most adoption proceedings are closed to the public, but National Adoption Day allows family and the community to learn more about the journey associated with opening a home to adopted children.

For Cook, Thursday was the restart of her parenting journey.

She has two adult children of her own who asked Cook for a baby brother when they were growing up.

“None of us thought it’d come this late in life, but now we’ve all gotten what we’re looking for,” Cook said.

A similar story can be heard from new parents Steven and Kimberly Bilancia.

They came to their adoption hearing on Thursday with their three new children, Kenzlie, Kingston and McKenna — all clad in Bengals jerseys with their last name printed on the back with the number “23.”

The three children came into Steven and Kimberly’s life through foster placements. Their two girls have medical needs that require about 1,000 miles of travel to doctor’s appointments each month.

The Bilancias have fostered for other youth in the past and also advocate on behalf of foster youth through the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. The couple did not expect their placement to end with adopting three toddlers, but the months leading up to adoption day were filled with excitement.

Kimberly Bilancia said one of her daughters was counting down to her adoption day, night by night.

“She kept asking me, ‘Is it my Adoption Day yet? Is it my Adoption Day yet?’” Kimberly Bilancia said.

A dozen other adoptions were finalized on Thursday. Montgomery County Children Services associate director Craig Rickett said the annual adoption event is an emotional, joyous occasion.

“To see the look on these families and these children’s faces and to hear their testimonials during the proceeding, and to hear that raw emotion and knowing what many of these families and children have gone through on that lengthy journey … it’s very humbling,” he said.

Rickett said Children Services’ first goal is to reunify families, but sometimes that’s not possible.

That’s why the community needs residents to open their homes to foster placements or proceed with adoptions is persistent, Rickett said.

Adoptive or foster parents must be 18 or older and have sufficient financial resources to support a child and provide housing.

Children Services provides the 24 hours of required pre-service training at no cost and facilitates the required home study. The county also hosts informational meetings for foster parenting and adoption every month, with the next one scheduled for Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Haines Children’s Center.

“It is a lengthy process but it is a very rewarding and joyous one,” Rickett said “And you don’t have to be a perfect parent to become an adoptive parent or foster parent.”

Kimberly Bilancia said adopting is not about “rewriting” a child’s story; rather, it’s about adding to its chapters.

“They have a past, but it’s the future that will define who they are for the rest of their lives,” she said.

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