On Saturday, the Johnson County Courthouse in Olathe was a place for balloons, beginnings, families and tears of joy.
“This is the best day of the year in this courtroom, in this courthouse … in the state of Kansas,” District Court Judge Kathleen L. Sloan told eight families and the children they were in court to make their own as part of National Adoption Month.
“You come in here happy,” Sloan said. “I get to send you home even happier than when you came in.”
Felicia Taylor was beaming. She and husband Derrick Taylor had waited five years to adopt their son Jaden, a 5-year-old with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, visual impairment and developmental delay. He had been a foster child in their home since before his first birthday.
Then there were Brittany and Matthew Branson, in court with 2-year-old Mark and his sister, 3-year-old Angelina, whom the couple would finally adopt. The Bransons had cared for both as foster children for two years. The siblings are the Bransons’ first and only children, not counting the 26 other foster kids who have passed through their Overland Park home over the last four years.
Dozens of families gathered in courtrooms in the eastern half of Kansas on Saturday to make official child and parent bonds and to celebrate the occasion with relatives and friends.
In Kansas, 350 children need an adoptive family. This month, judges and the nonprofit organization KVC Kansas, a child welfare and behavioral health care group, are facilitating the adoption of more than 60 children. Twelve were joined with families in Johnson County on Saturday and 15 children got families in Shawnee County the same day.
The sound of babies cooing and toddlers babbling loudly filled the courtroom and little Mark Branson wriggled in his dad’s arms, trying to slip away.
Court officials questioned the toddler’s dad, asking his name, his wife’s, the children’s birthdays and more. The boy wriggled free with his dad’s phone in hand and ran. The courtroom audience and judge laughed.
“This is the best hearing we get to have in this courthouse,” Sloan said. “The court believes this adoption is in the best interest of these beautiful children.”
That sentence made Julie Branson cry because she was so excited for her son and daughter-in-law. And so happy for her new grandchildren. “They are officially ours,” she said.
More tears were shed later. Stevie Morris, a court-appointed special advocate who had been a part of the Taylors’ lives since their son Jaden was 3 months old, came to court with extra tissues.
“This is a special family,” Morris said. “And Jaden is a lucky little guy.”
The Taylors have been foster parents for several years, caring for about 40 children to date. Felicia, a former foster child herself, was a 38-year-old bank officer when she met Jaden, the first child she and her husband have adopted. She left her job to care for him.
Being a foster parent, she said, “is my way of giving back. When I was in foster care I was loved and cared for.” Her husband, Derrick, is doing what his parents taught him.
“We always took in the runaways, the homeless, the strays when Derrick was growing up,” said Carmen Taylor, Derrick’s mom. “Derrick just carried it on and went a step further.”
Felicia and Derrick Taylor care for two other boys who are foster children, and the Taylors said they will continue fostering children in their Overland Park home.
When Felicia Taylor first signed up to foster children she didn’t check the box to take those with medical needs. “I didn’t think I had the resources for that, not timewise or emotionally,” Taylor said.
That changed when she was called to the hospital to see Jaden. “There was just something about him,” Taylor said. “He was calm.”
The boy, who has had 20 surgeries and twice as many hospital stays, had been shaken as a baby and had brain trauma.
“But he is an amazing child. He’s stubborn and fearless. A real fighter,” Taylor said. “Doctors didn’t even know if he was going to make it, but he did. Then they didn’t think he would ever walk,” but he can. On Saturday, though, Jaden sat in a wheel chair playing with a digital notebook, and holding his mother’s hand.
The goal of foster parenting, Taylor said, “is always to see the children go home to family.” But Jaden was different. It was on one of those many late nights in the hospital with him when he was about a year old that Taylor realized, “We were going to adopt him,” she said.
Taylor thought Saturday’s hearing would just be a formality. “I’ve always been his mother,” she said. But when the judge announced that she was officially his mother, a broad smile spread across Taylor’s face.
“I feel like I can breathe,” she said. “No one is gong to come into my home and take away this beautiful child who I simply couldn’t love more.”
KVC is responsible for the care of all children served by the Kansas Department for Children and Families in the Kansas City area and provides case management, therapy, family education, transportation and aftercare services.
In the last decade KVC has matched more than 3,129 children nationwide with adoptive families.