Courts around Connecticut welcomed 20 kids into their forever homes Friday.
While COVID-19 had slowed court access for adoption finalization, the state’s Department of Children and Families said staff and the community have stepped up to keep kids feeling safe and loved.
On what’s called Connecticut’s Adoption Day, a New Haven family celebrated the finalization of Leeland, who turns 2 Tuesday.
“It is a relief. It’s surreal. We knew it would be happening, but like I said we were just filled with so many emotions with the pandemic and things being postponed,” said his adoptive mother Nydia Roldan.
A gift right before Thanksgiving and his birthday.
“It’s amazing to see him kind of grow from the two weeks that we got him to this thriving 2-year-old little boy. He’s so smart,” said his adoptive sister Emily Roldan.
Leeland has been with his uncle, his partner and her grown kids since he was just a couple of weeks old.
“It’s amazing to be a big sister again that’s something I’ve always taken pride in having three older brothers,” said Emily. “I love teaching him his colors and his numbers.”
CT Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes celebrated online with Leeland’s loved ones.
“Our foster and adoptive families have stepped up and really they’ve created those forever families and forever homes for kids in the midst of all of this, even if the paperwork in terms of their permanency has not been finalized,” she said.
So while adoption numbers have dropped this year with court closures, the department said the data doesn’t reflect the hard work being done behind the scenes to keep kids in safe, loving, and stable arms.
Despite the coronavirus crisis, Dorantes said they haven’t seen an increase of kids in their care.
“Even our foster families who have had experiences that have been just challenging, we had three foster parents who passed away during this time. And, their family members have stepped in to make sure that children have not been largely displaced. Other jurisdictions have had to scramble.”
She said Connecticut's system of social workers and the organizations that support them have pivoted during the pandemic.
So loving stories like Leeland’s can be told.
“He makes me, at times, put my life into perspective. I leave to work. I work as much as I can and all I think about is coming back home and seeing him smile. As soon as I open the door, he’ll run and he’ll hug me and it’s like he makes me feel reborn,” said his adoptive father Jose Melendez.
Across the state in Lebanon, Gerricho Paulhus, a first grade student at Lebanon Elementary School, was also adopted Friday. He entered foster care two years ago. In July of 2019, he met his forever family.
“By day three we just knew. That was it. He stole our hearts,” said Kerri Manseau, Gerricho’s adopted mother.
Gerricho was supposed to be officially adopted in April, but his court date was postponed due to the pandemic. It was rescheduled for today, but it had to be held virtually.
“Opening up a laptop and putting a 6-year-old in front of it saying ‘this is your big day,’ just did not seem to have the impact,” said Manseau.
The family reached out to Gerricho’s school and within a week the school organized a special day for Gerricho. His adoption was finalized via a flat screen television set-up in his school’s gym, as his first grade classmates sat behind him watching and cheering.
“It is one of the best things that has ever happened in my career,” said Rita Quiles-Glover, principal of Lebanon Elementary.
It was an exciting day for the school and for Gerricho’s entire family. His big brother, Nas, was adopted as well. His adoption was finalized last year. He said that there is nothing better than being a big brother.
“I love him to death,” said Nas.
Dorantes said the state is always looking for more foster families, but they really try to keep kids with family members if they need to leave their parents at all.
In fact, the department says 91% of families they get involved with remain intact with the guidance and support of community groups.