VERNON, Conn. (AP) - When their granddaughter was put into foster care a little more than three years ago, Mark and Tonya Chidester felt they had to act to keep the girl in their family.
“It was very important for us to not have her fall into the system and further than where she was at,” Tonya Chidester, who lives in Stafford, said of Summerlynn Lambert, who is now 5.
Lambert will officially remain a part of their family after an adoption ceremony on Nov. 20 at Vernon Juvenile Court, an event that culminates “a long three years.”
Adoption ceremonies are not typically open to the public, but Lambert’s was one of 50 that the state Department of Children and Families held in public Friday as part of National Adoption Day.
The day of events, including one in Hartford attended by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and DCF Commissioner Joette Katz, was also part of Connecticut’s recognition of National Adoption Month.
DCF said nearly 800 Connecticut children found permanent homes during the last fiscal year, including 510 through adoptions and 283 through subsidized guardianship transfers.
Most of DCF’s daily operations get little attention because of privacy laws intended to protect children involved with the agency, so much of the attention is negative.
Malloy said opening up adoption events allows the public to see positive outcomes aided or produced by DCF.
“We always get the bad news, because there are tough things that are going to happen in this situation,” the governor said. “It’s nice to be able to celebrate the good news, and adoption is one of those.”
Judge Michael R. Dannehy, presiding over the Hartford event, agreed.
“A lot of times DCF workers work in anonymity and you hear only about the bad things,” Dannehy said “It’s unfortunate that you don’t get to hear about the good things like this.”
The state has made an increased effort in recent years to place children in foster care with other relatives whenever possible.
Malloy credited Katz with that, and said it helps ensure children can maintain bonds with other relatives even if they lose touch with their biological parents.
“That familial connection is more important to everybody, and it makes it more likely that a child is going to remain in contact with other family members as well. You know, that’s who we are - we’re family,” he said.
For the Chidesters, those bonds were crucial to getting through a process that also was filled with sadness, stress, and frustration.
They said the most difficult thing has been trying to explain to Lambert her family situation in a way she could understand. But family, DCF staff, and Lambert’s therapist have been helpful.
“We got support from family, school, everybody that has been an amazing part of being there for the smiles, laughter to the tears and the tantrums,” Tonya Chidester said.
Hartford’s event also featured an adoption that will keep children with biological relatives. Three siblings - Shmya, 11, Dorian, 9, Anthony, 7, and Kahlil, 6 - were all adopted by their great-aunt, Dorothy McKnight, also after a process that lasted more than three years.
The kids all took McKnight’s last name in the adoption.
DCF said that rate of adopted children being placed with families has risen from 21 percent in January 2011 to 39.3 percent, and this past September was the first time the agency placed more than half the children entering care during a month with family.
During that same period, the agency has reduced its reliance of group homes - currently at 13.5 percent, down from 29.8 percent - and out-of-state placements, which have seen a 97.5 percent reduction from January 2011.
Regardless of whether a child is adopted by family or foster parents, Dannehy said, adoption events like the ones on Nov. 20 are merely formalities that recognize relationships formed over time.
“We’re here just to simply formalize and arrangement or a family unit that’s really already a family, because we all know that there’s no legal stamp that makes somebody a mother or makes somebody a father,” he said. “It’s really the emotional ties that develop that make a true family.”
Connecticut residents interested in adopting must complete a four-month licensing process that includes training, a home study, and background checks.
Adoptive parents are eligible for a post-secondary education subsidy, and also may qualify for medical and financial aid.
Information from: Journal Inquirer, https://www.journalinquirer.com
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