When Nicole Starr talks about adoption, she speaks from the heart.
When she was 6 months old she was adopted from Korea by an American family; three years ago she and her wife adopted their son, A.J., when he was 8.
“It’s a real honor to be one of the many steps in another family’s creation story, I just really wanted to be a part of this,” said Starr, one of several judges who volunteered Saturday morning to preside over the 16th annual National Adoption Day at the Ramsey County Juvenile and Family Justice Center in downtown St. Paul.
While the event is a celebration complete with cupcakes, juice boxes and at least a few tiaras, real and important business gets done that day. The aim is to help raise awareness about the 100,000 children across the country who are in foster care and awaiting permanent placement with families.
By Saturday afternoon, 21 families adopted 31 children, including four siblings adopted by Kristin and LaQuaunn Suggs of Zimmerman.
The Suggses said it was obvious from the beginning that the children, ages 4 to 13, belonged with them.
“I knew it right the first time we met them,” said LaQuaunn. Kristin Suggs agreed. “I knew it right away, too, that they were our kids.”
A half-hour later the Suggses, an attorney, a social worker and a guardian ad litem were gathered around a conference table shoulder to shoulder as their relatives huddled behind them. One by one, as the Suggses passed a box of Kleenex between them, Judge Sara Grewing finalized the adoption of each child.
Like the Suggses’ kids, many of Minnesota’s waiting children are in foster care for just a few months, but most have been waiting for years. That’s why some of these children are in foster care through a “concurrent planning” approach, which aims to get them out of foster care as quickly as possible by simultaneously mapping out a plan for the child to return home or prepare them for adoption, according to Gayle Kittleson, a Ramsey County social worker supervisor.
For Barbara and David Woodward, of Maplewood, the path to Saturday’s adoption of two energetic toddlers started three years ago when they adopted David, who is now 11.
“We feel like we won the lottery with David,” said Barbara Woodward. Her husband nodded. “It’s the only way we’d have a family right now,” he said.
Their son had two much younger siblings who also ended up in the foster care system, and it made perfect sense for them to be placed with the Woodwards. The Woodwards had already formed a tight bond with David’s paternal grandparents, who live nearby and spend several days a week with the kids.
“They’ve become part of our family and it just feels so normal,” said Barbara Woodward.
Starr’s son, A.J., said that with his own adoption several years behind him, he wanted to be there to support the kids and families whose lives were about to change in profound ways.
After each adoption performed by his mother, he offered the family a couple of carefully considered keepsakes to help honor the day: Chocolate and a copy of “Inside Out,” an animated movie with characters that represent the various and often complex emotions of a child.
“It feels good,” he said, noting that at that moment he related most to the character Joy. “I like seeing all the happy kids running around.”