AUSTIN (KXAN) — The theme at this year’s Austin Adoption Day was the “Wizard of Oz.”
Organizers say, for 31 Central Texas families, it represents the end of the road in the adoption process. “They know that they are committing themselves to these children,” said adoption attorney Denise Hyde, who is also the event chairperson. “That’s what’s so amazing about these families.”
More than 50 children had their adoptions finalized Thursday. “For him, tomorrow is going to be the same as today,” said Will Myers, an adoptive parent of 15-month-old Jace. “But of us, we know we are always going to be a family.”
Myers and his wife, Sarah, opened their Round Rock home to Jace in April. The couple already has a biological 8-year-old daughter, Addison. “When our agency first told us about him and they showed us a picture, that maternal instinct kicked in,” said Sarah. “We’re mom and dad. That’s all he knows us as.”
Jace is one of 53 children who had their adoptions finalized at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center on South Congress Avenue. Seven-year-old Andrea Arnold is another child. “It’s been a big learning experience,” said adoptive dad Richard Arnold.
Arnold and his wife, Annalisa, met Andrea and her two biological sisters, 10-year-old Destiny and 8-year-old Jaylen, at an adoption event in 2014. She taught the sisters some words in sign language.
Her husband is deaf. And, the girls took to it. “When we were getting ready to leave the event, [Destiny] said, ‘It was so much fun today. Can we do this again next week? Will you be our teacher again?'” said Annalisa. “I said, in my heart, ‘No, but I want to be your mommy.'”
Annalisa wanted to start the adoption process right away, but one month later, the South Austin couple learned that the girls’ foster mother wanted to adopt them. That sparked a 10-month wait. It usually takes many foster families in Texas about six months to adopt, which includes extensive background checks and multiple home visits by social workers.
Then one day, Annalisa said her case worker sent her an email alerting her that the foster mother had backed out, but she could only adopt the two older sisters. The couple did that last year. They petitioned the courts to get Andrea to their home for monthly visits.
“She was coming to our house every two weeks, then every week,” Annalisa said. “So, finally in the summer she joined us and I requested that we could adopt her in November, too.”
Adoption day has come for the family of five. After a judge officially changed Andrea’s last name, the family marked the milestone with special adoption rings.
“I tell the girls that adoption is a little bit like marriage,” Annalisa said. “It’s a commitment. You don’t always know that person and you’re getting to know them as you live with them. We’re together and we’re a real family.”
While the event is a festive occasion for the families, the state is in dire need of foster and adoptive families. More than 6,000 children across Texas are still in foster care.