Adoption day shines as relief for family court system

After his adoption hearing, 8-year-old Adrian Davis (center) shared a smile with his new parents, Keith Davis and Loretta Davis. They adopted Adrian on Friday at the Jackson County Family Court in Kansas City. The couple also have adopted three older boys.
After his adoption hearing, 8-year-old Adrian Davis (center) shared a smile with his new parents, Keith Davis and Loretta Davis. They adopted Adrian on Friday at the Jackson County Family Court in Kansas City. The couple also have adopted three older boys. The Kansas City Star

These days do come.

The soldiering workers and volunteers who fight for child victims in the family court system get to smile and cry and turn their phones into cameras.

It’s family picture time.

Eight-year-old Adrian is a Davis now. Officially adopted just as he’d been hoping since he was taken in by Loretta and Keith Davis as a foster child more than a year ago.

The Jackson County court officials who formalized the union capped the ceremony Friday by calling the entire Davis family up for a celebratory group picture in the same courtroom that more often is a hearing ground for pain and strife.

Joe Coulter was one of those raising his phone to take a picture — until he was called up to be part of the “family.”

Coulter was Adrian’s court-appointed special advocate — or CASA — volunteer.

Many cases are hard, he said. The fortunes of some children who have been abused or neglected can be torn between the uncertain struggles of a biological family and fleeting foster family choices.

Many children don’t have a CASA volunteer who is looking after their best interests alone. There are only enough volunteers to serve about one in three.

He’s seen cases that weren’t resolved for years — a child going through multiple caseworkers, therapists, homes and institutions.

“I spent a lot of evenings looking in halfway houses for kids,” he said.

Some children never secured a permanent home and grew out of the system. They “aged out.”

But here was Adrian. He was the boy in the courtroom Friday who was paging through a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer picture book while the caring adults in his life entered their statements into the court record.

He was the one taking the center pose in his long-sleeve polo shirt, cuffed blue jeans and black sneakers, holding the little black stuffed dog he pulled out of the bag of toys offered by the court’s officiating commissioner.

He was part of a remarkable family, whose parents had previously adopted three boys, one by one, who were now Adrian’s big brothers.

“This guy,” Coulter said, watching Adrian, “has the best chance we could ever give him for a fresh, new life.”

Keith Davis, a Claycomo plant worker, and wife Loretta, a hair stylist, could not have children of their own but began filling their home with lost boys who only needed “love and structure,” Keith Davis said.

They would start as a foster home for each boy, knowing that there was the ultimate possibility that they could adopt.

Adjustments are difficult. The boys came in with “learned behaviors,” Loretta Davis said. Each, in his own way, was prone to tantrums. The parents had to show them patience.

They came “from a point where they did not trust,” she said. But they learned of love and of caring.

“They gave me a place to stay,” said 14-year-old Josh, the oldest, “to have fun, develop, and fall in love with things — like basketball.”

The need is as large as ever. Both Missouri and Kansas reported this year record numbers of children in foster care — more than 12,500 in Missouri and more than 6,100 in Kansas.

Caseworkers are handling 18 to 25 cases at a time.

And the CASA programs in Jackson and in Wyandotte and Johnson counties remain in need of volunteers willing to spend a dozen hours a month looking after a child’s best interests.

Oftentimes you’ll feel like you’re “meddling,” Coulter said. Sometimes, because the CASA worker might be the one person in the system who has been with a child throughout the long journey, you see solutions or resources others don’t.

The rewards come on days like Friday.

Adrian’s past is confidential, but he made it clear he’s where he wants to be now.

It was a year ago, just a few months after he’d been taken in by his foster family, that Adrian asked his caseworker, Robin Clair, if he could change his last name, Clair said.

By summer, when Loretta Davis was with Adrian enrolling him in summer school, the boy was insisting on it. He asked her: Couldn’t the school at least connect it by hyphen to his old name?

But now, with Christmas coming, his wish has been granted.

His last name, he declared after the adoption hearing, “is Davis.” And he spelled it. “D-a-v-i-s.”

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

Want to help?

Interested in being a foster family? Go to the children’s division of the Missouri Department of Social Services at dss.mo.gov/, or the Kansas Department for Children and Families at www.dcf.ks.gov.

Interested in being a CASA volunteer? For Jackson County, call 816-984-8204 or go to www.jacksoncounty<JU>casa-mo.org. For Wyandotte and Johnson counties, call 913-715-4040 or go to www.casajwc.org.

Related stories from Kansas City Star