Column: Adoption’s like winning the lottery

Stephen J. Markman

Last fall Judge Michael Buck offered sentiments that judges across the state have often repeated, “Today is our favorite day of the year.”

That’s because Adoption Day is the one day each year on which balloons and stuffed animals decorate podiums on which legal documents usually lie; on which toys and stuffed animals share the dais with judges and bailiffs; and on which children crawl about where jurors and witnesses are usually seated. Adoption Day also seems to be the noisiest day of the year in our courtrooms, with sounds of laughter, crying, and even kicking and screaming, coming from within. Most of all, however, it is the one day each year with no “losing” parties, but only “winning” ones.

Meanwhile, at the Michigan Supreme Court’s Adoption Day ceremonies, speaker Rob Scheer was orphaned at 10. Shuttled from home to home for eight years with his permanent belongings collected in a trash bag, Rob was homeless at 18 and never found his “forever” family. “I remember only wanting to be loved,” he sadly recalled.

But Rob’s story had a happy ending when as an adult he adopted four foster children. The rewards were enormous. “Bringing foster children into my home was like winning the lottery.” To assist foster children in avoiding the pain he had faced as a child, Scheer founded a nonprofit organization, Comfort Cases, which provides backpacks to children entering the foster care system. “We want these children to know that as a community we care for them. We want to provide them with dignity and hope.”

I was honored to preside over the Michigan Supreme Court’s 15th annual adoption day ceremony in Lansing. I felt blessed to see five children find their forever homes at a Hall of Justice ceremony while statewide more than 100 children found new permanent homes in these once-a-year public ceremonies.

In many of these proceedings, my Supreme Court colleagues and Court of Appeals judges joined local trial court judges in highlighting the adoption option. For example, Justice Brian Zahra made Adoption Day special for four Livingston County families, recalling that adoption holds a special meaning for him because his oldest sister Kathleen had been adopted, while Justices Beth Clement and Kurt Wilder attended Adoption Day in Midland, where 4-year old Adriana Baker pounded the gavel to finalize her own adoption. And while pounding the gavel was popular with the kids, a box of tissues was much more needed by family and friends.

When I joined the court nearly 20 years ago, I told myself that it would be very difficult to persuade me to terminate a parent’s rights to a child. But as I learned of the abuse to which some children have been exposed, it became clear that they would never be able to achieve their God-given potential without an opportunity for a fresh start in life. In many of these cases, adoption became that fresh start, as well as that child’s best chance to grow up in a stable, permanent, and loving home.

Encouragingly, more than 2,000 children have been adopted over the past year by the efforts of state social services workers and adoption agencies. With the help of more than 60 public, private, and church-related child-placement agencies in Michigan, we have made steady progress in moving toward the goal of someday securing an adoptive home for every child who needs one.

But statistics only begin to tell the story. The story of Stacy Creed supplies the necessary context. A single mother of five, she began fostering in 2010 to gain custody of her biological nephew. Since then, Creed has gone on to foster 11 children through Catholic Charities, adopting four more after it simply became “too hard to say goodbye.” But she is only one of many who have fostered and ultimately adopted special needs children, older children who had lost hope of a “forever” home, and children of every kind of racial, religious, ethnic, and capability background.

One by one on Adoption Day, another child gains parents, siblings, extended families, and the types of experiences and relationships that can only be nurtured within a “forever” family.

Stephen Markman is chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.