Los Angeles Foster Youth Find Families on National Adoption Day

Nearly 170 foster children were adopted Friday during the National Adoption Day event at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park just east of Los Angeles. This marks the 16th time the court has taken part in the adoption celebration in which 400 courts from across the country finalize adoptions and honor families that have adopted youth from the child welfare system.

With support from the Dave Thomas and Freddie Mac foundations, the Alliance for Children’s Rights launched National Adoption Day in 2000 to curb the number of backlogged foster child adoptions. Since then, 55,000 youth have found permanent homes. While celebrating this triumph, however, the child advocates gathered at the Children’s Court Friday warned that more than 400,500 foster children still seek “forever families” and that same-sex couples in some states face barriers to adoption.

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Judge Michael Levanas with the Bennett family on National Adoption Day in Los Angeles. Photo: Nadra Nittle

“Across the country, more than 20,000 children turn 18 without ever finding a family to call their own,” said Michael Levanas, the new presiding judge of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court.

Levanas recalled the relief that one foster youth expressed after a family adopted him. The child said, “It’s kind of like I’ve been walking for a long, long time. Now, I have a place to sit down.”

Janis Spire, CEO of Alliance for Children’s Rights, acknowledged that the nation has made strides in foster child adoptions but stressed that the amount of children needing permanent homes hasn’t dropped.

“So, we must redouble our efforts to find these children loving families,” she said.

Spire also noted that society’s definition of what constitutes a family has grown to be more inclusive in the 21st century. Yet, a Utah judge made headlines in mid-November after ordering a foster child to be removed from a lesbian couple’s home.

“It seems unfathomable,” Spire said of the judge’s decision. She pointed out that in California same-sex couples have long been able to take in foster children.

In fact, a gay couple’s adoption of a two-year-old girl was one of the highlights of National Adoption Day in Los Angeles. Having already adopted her two older brothers, Marc and Nestor Bennett adopted toddler Josephine Friday.

“Today we celebrate that Josephine’s best chance to thrive is in our home,” Marc Bennett remarked before the adoption.

“While there are barriers for same-sex couples in other states, there are no such barriers here,” he said.

National Adoption Day doesn’t just include new adoptive families but families who’ve adopted in the past. Frederick and Kimberly Millner have taken part in the event since adopting their son, A.J., 9, with the help of the Alliance in 2008.

“It’s a joy for us to come back and visit,” Frederick Millner said. “It was an exciting time for us.”

The Millners, who volunteer at the event each year, said that it’s not only good to give back but also to allow A.J. to see other children join adoptive families.

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The Millner family at the National Adoption Day event in Los Angeles. Photo: Nadra Nittle

“He knew his adoption story. He was loved. He was chosen,” Kimberly Millner said.

A.J. would like to take part in National Adoption Day as an adoptive parent when he grows up.

“I’m inspired by all the children who come,” he said.

Using the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as inspiration, Michael Nash, the retired judge who formerly presided over the Children’s Court and is the incoming director of the Office of Child Protection, urged the public to keep fighting for children in need.

“As long as there are children in our community without a safe, permanent, loving home, we can never rest,” he said.

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