What happened Friday in Probate Division on the 17th floor of the Marion County Superior Court is not uncommon, but every other day of the year, it is usually done behind closed doors.
In Senior Judge Gerald Zore's courtroom, sets of families file in one at a time and take their places. In turn, each parent is sworn in and takes their seats at the witness stand.
From the table, the lawyer asks the couple the same list of questions: Tell the judge your name. Who resides with you? Tell the court about the child.
“She's everything we're looking for,” says the father. Like his wife, he is wearing a green sticker on his shirt, indicating their family does not want their photo taken. (Families without stickers have signed release forms.)
The lawyer asks why they want to take on this “awesome responsibility.”
“We wanted kids, and we're not able to have kids, so we went this route,” the father answers.
After the lawyer asks if they have ever been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor related to the health and safety of children, Zore asks his final, standard question about their pets with a smile on his face.
Once the mother takes the stand, the tears begin to flow.
“[She] is a fun-loving young girl that stole our hears,” she says, choking up.
After a few more perfunctory questions, including the spelling of the child's new name, Zore delivers the happy news that the petition for adoption is granted.
Applause breaks out as one of 270 uncontested adoptions in 30 counties across the state is granted during Indiana's observance of National Adoption Day. The official date of the holiday is traditionally the Saturday before Thanksgiving, but these county courts scheduled individual, open celebrations during different dates in November.
“National Adoption Day is an effort to raise awareness about children in foster care waiting to find permanent families,” stated Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush in her June 18 order authorizing the broadcast.
That order authorized “families and press the opportunity to photograph and videotape adoption proceedings” on these selected days, according to Kathryn Dolan, chief public information officer.
“Indiana trial courts resolve disputes in over 1.3 million cases each year,” stated Dolan. “Adoptions are just one case type. Each year there are about 3,600 adoptions in the state.”
Behind the adoptive families is a table filled with toys, candy, and other brightly-colored items. Seated there is Vanessa Dove, recruitment coordinator for the Indiana Adoption Program. She said their goal is to match families with children in foster care.
“We do recruitment. We're the front line,” she said. “We go out and find the parents who are interested in adoption and help them work through the process. These parents have gone through the foster care adoption process. They've got their home study. Now, the kids who have been placed with them, in most of these situations, they were foster placements that are now turning into adoptive placements.”
In the lobby outside the courtroom is a display with booklet from the program featuring photos and biographies of some of the children who have been through foster care and are available to be adopted.
“[People] think that adoption and foster care are not really close together, but they are,” said Dove.
Just then, Tamika Caldwell, her husband, Christopher, and their children, Symphoni and Kaleb, enter the courtroom.
“What are we going to do?” asks Symphoni before Tamika is sworn in.
“We're going to talk to this guy,” says the lawyer.
After being sworn in, Tamika tells the court that Kaleb has lived with their family since he was 2 days old, and Symphoni for two years. Tamika, who has been fostering and adopting for almost 18 years, says Symphoni is her biological cousin and that they have negotiated a post-adoption contact agreement with the biological mother and father that calls for a limited number of visits.
“She's smart. She loves Barbie dolls, and princesses,” she says, of Symphoni. “Kaleb came into the world really struggling. He had a rough start. He's doing well. He's learning how to talk. [He's] busy. I think he's going to be a professional boxer or a football player because he's very active.”
The children's new names are then spelled out for the record.
“That's my brother!” exclaims Symphoni from her seat, as Kaleb's name is read.
After Tamika finishes, Christopher takes the stand and answers the same questions. He is asked why he wants to adopt these children.
“They're our kids,” he says, without missing a beat.
If you would like more information on how to start the foster or adoption process, visit: www.adoptachild.in.gov.