Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

32 adoptions finalized in Hinds, Harrison and Washington counties

November 21, 2006

Thirty-two children, including several sets of siblings, were adopted in Hinds, Harrison and Washington counties on Nov. 17 in ceremonies celebrating National Adoption Day.

Chancery Courts and the Department of Human Services worked together to finalize the adoptions of children who have been living in foster care.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens said she was in tears by the time she finished the hearing for a 5-year-old boy’s adoption. The foster parent had adopted five other children from the same family in previous proceedings.

“This was the last sibling. She had adopted his five siblings. She said she wanted them all together, and they wanted to be together,” Judge Owens said.

Judge Owens finalized five adoptions on Nov. 17. An aunt of two children adopted them to bring the extended family back together, Judge Owens said.

In another case, a child with cerebral palsy was adopted. The adoptive parents are also seeking to adopt another special needs child in Rankin County.

“They are taking on this responsibility for life. That was so moving,” Judge Owens said. “This is the best part of my job.”

Similar stories played out in courts in other parts of the state. In Washington County, 10 children, ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers, were adopted, according to the Mississippi Department of Human Services. In Harrison County, 17 children, including multiple sets of siblings, were adopted on Nov. 17.

The adoptions were scheduled close to National Adoption Day. The official observation of National Adoption Day was Saturday, Nov. 18.

Chancery Judge Marie Wilson of Greenville, who presided over hearings to finalize adoptions in Washington County, knows the joy personally. She became an adoptive parent of two children earlier this year.

“It’s special because they are yours now, after all the anxiety and all of the worrying and all the pain,” Judge Wilson said.

In a hallway outside the Harrison County Chancery Court in Gulfport, Lisa Page scooped up her 3-year-old. He came to court as her foster child and left as her son. A mother’s embrace quieted the fussiness of a youngster overdue for a nap. Then she handed him off to his new father, Justin Page.

Justin and Lisa Page of Sumrall have been foster parents for the 3-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. The children are unrelated, but are bonded because they had been together in another foster home since the boy was an infant. The Pages are waiting to adopt the girl.

Lisa Page, 33, who teaches special needs children, said she became interested in adoption because of her classroom contact with other children in foster care. She dealt with children all day in the classroom, but went home to an empty house.

“There are so many children that are in need of homes that I felt like that was what God called us to do,” she said.

Justin Page, 31, who works for a petroleum storage company, said, “It turned our lives upside-down in a matter of a couple of weeks. It’s changed our lives for the better.”

“We can’t imagine our lives without them,” Lisa Page said.

Statewide, 169 children in foster care are in need of prospective adoptive parents, according to MDHS. An additional 217 foster children are in adoptive placement, which means that they are already living with prospective adoptive parents. A total of 386 children in the custody of MDHS are eligible to be adopted.

Between Oct. 1, 2005, and Sept. 30, 2006, a total of 252 children in MDHS custody were adopted. The Department’s goal for 2007 is 300 adoptions.

There are now 3,337 children in foster care, according to MDHS.

Biloxi attorney Clare Sekul Hornsby estimates that she has handled thousands of adoptions in 61 and a half years of law practice. She represented adoptive parents of nine children on Nov. 17. “This is the only thing that makes God smile all day long,” said Hornsby. “It’s the joy of my life.”

Chancery Judge Margaret Alfonso, who presided over all 17 adoptions in Harrison County Chancery Court on Nov. 17, said, “The happiest proceedings we have in Chancery Court are adoptions which make permanent homes for children that cannot be reunited with their biological parents. They are going to loving and safe homes. That’s the goal of anyone who works in protective services for children.”

Shelley Foreman, Director of Children’s Services at Gulf Coast Mental Health Center, said permanent placement is essential to children’s wellbeing. She recalled cases of foster children who moved among group homes and foster families as many as 20 times. Such moves wreak “total devastation” on the children’s ability to trust others and form relationships and emotional bonds.

Keeping siblings together is a priority for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, said Linda Millsap, Program Administrator for the Southern District Foster Adopt Unit.

Angela Faye Hawthorne, 49, of Gulfport , adopted her grandsons, ages 3 and 6. “I want to give them a nice education and see that they are protected the right way and see that they are in church, as they are right now, and make them very happy,” she said.

Sammy and Serilda Bang of Vancleave permanently reunited three brothers by adopting them on Nov. 17, and became foster parents to their teenage sister. Two other siblings will be able to visit.

The adopted boys, ages 4, 6 and 7, have lived with the Bangs for more than two years. The Bangs, ages 40 and 31, became foster parents with the intention of adopting.

Martha and George L. Stewart Jr. of Escatawpa adopted three children, ages 6, 7 and 8. The children are a brother and sister and a male cousin.

George Stewart, 33, who works for Northrop Grumman and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, said he has strived to succeed in his work. But, he said, “The one thing I’ve wanted to succeed in most is to be a dad.”

Stewart and his wife, who works as an officer manager for a physical therapist, became parents three times over on Nov. 17.

“We went from zero to three right quick,” George Stewart said, snapping his fingers.

The three youngsters lived with the Stewarts as foster children for more than a year. On Nov. 17, their relationship became permanent with adoption.

“The only change is the last name,” George Stewart said. “The love will be the same.”