Adoption Day: Sharing the Joy

Eye on LSSI, Winter 2007 ( Download PDF of entire publication)

LaToya, Chris’ godmother, embraces him outside the courthouse with Kim nearby.On a sunny morning in late August, the Bill family and their friends spill into a hallway on the second floor of the Peoria County Courthouse. The family and their considerable entourage are here to finalize the adoptions of Shaun and Kim Bills’ foster children, Christopher, 5, and Sophie, 3.

First to arrive are Grandma and Grandpa Bill (Marcia and Tom or “Pop”) and Grandma and Grandpa Fudge (Charlie and Sue). Shaun and Kim follow with Chris and Sophia, all dressed up in their best. Kim carefully pins a daisy on each child, and presents the children with their adoption gifts from Grandma and Grandpa Fudge: a gold pocket watch for Chris and a delicate cross for Sophie. Their soon-to-be siblings, Tia and Keenan, received the same gifts on their “Gotcha Day.”

Lynn Goffinet, associate executive director of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois’ (LSSI’s) Children’s Community Services and statewide adoption director, greets Chris and Sophie and says, “This is one of those things you just don’t miss.” Alisa Hilliard and Debbie Jarman, LSSI caseworkers who’ve worked with the family, are also here for this important day, along with LaToya, Chris’ godmother and the girlfriend of his biological father.

Why the big group? “To just share joy,” says Kim. “It’s always such a wonderful thing to have family and friends just to share in the day. The people at Lutheran [Social Services of Illinois] have worked so hard for us. I know it’s kind of neat for Lynn and the caseworkers to see it completed.”

“Our families have been through this with us through good times and bad,” explains Shaun. “We aren’t alone here. This is part of their reward. This is what makes being a grandparent cool.”

At 10:30, the 17-member group, along with one dear friend who’s there from a distance, enters the courtroom of the Honorable Richard L. Grawey. This isn’t the first time the Bill family has been in Grawey’s chambers. They were there on May 23, 2001, when they’d adopted Tia and Keenan, who are now 10 and 9.

Pleased to see the family flanked by their loved ones and other friends, the judge greets the group. “You’re all part of ‘the village,’” Grawey says. “You’re all part of the reason it makes it possible to raise one or two or three or four children.

“The adoption proceedings are [a judge’s] happiest proceedings …,” the judge continues. “It’s wonderful to see you back again.”

After being sworn in, the judge runs through a number of questions, first with Kim, and then with Shaun.

“Have you previously filed a petition for adoption?”

“Have [the children] been examined by a pediatrician?”

“Do you understand that this is a subsidized adoption under DCFS?”

“Do you understand that we are here today to seek a legal adoption? In real old-fashioned language — this is forever,” Grawey adds, noting the weight of the proceedings.

“Is it still your desire to proceed with the adoption?”

After Kim and Shaun answer all questions in the affirmative, Grawey announces, “I will grant the order of adoption. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to grant this adoption.” He bangs the gavel, and Chris and Sophie are now officially members of the Bill family.

Kim pulls out hockey jerseys and slips them on Chris and Sophie. On the front, they read “Bills, Bills and More Bills” and on the back, “Sophia 2 1/2” and “Christopher 5.”

Photos are snapped of Grawey with Shaun, Kim, Tia, Keenan, Chris and Sophie holding a poster-sized picture of Shaun’s best friend, Tom, eating ice cream. Tom is serving in Iraq with the Illinois National Guard. Shaun has known him since fifth grade, and they are “like brothers,” he says.

After the proceedings, the family gathers in the hallway for a reading of a poem Shaun’s dad “Pop” — himself adopted — wrote in 1990. He read it in 2001 when Tia and Keenan were adopted and remembers shedding some tears that day.

“I’ll try to hold it together this time,” Pop says and reads:

Adopted kids are special kids
They’re hand-picked — sent
from God
For special parents full of love
Who receive that special nod
To give them hope and fill their
dreams
And give their life a plan
All custom made into a family
A gift by God’s own hand

Pastor Jeff Kelley and his wife Nora, from the Bills’ parish, Morton United Methodist, says a prayer. The entire group holds hands.

“Their perspective is what makes them special,” says Goffinet, of Shaun and Kim. “They [adopted] because they believed they could be a family, provide a home to children who need parents,” she explains. “They’re totally invested in meeting the needs of [Tia, Keenan, Chris and Sophie]. They have the ability, the commitment. They know when they adopt a child who’s been abused and neglected, they’re going to have issues. They’re committed to addressing those issues and helping them in any way possible to become the best [people] they can be.”

The group then processes to the courthouse basement to sign the final paperwork. Shaun lifts Chris and Sophie up on the counter to watch. A few signatures and it’s official. All the kids are itching to get to their favorite ice cream parlor, part of the Adoption Day ritual, something that originated when Shaun’s dad and brother were adopted in 1959.

“There you are,” says Brady, the attorney who helped the Bills to make their family complete, handing the family the adoption papers. “You are all done, except for the ice cream.”

“I think of these kids as a gift to Shaun and Kim,” says Pop. “For a moment, I wondered what they would grow up to become. It was the happiness in Chris and Sophie’s eyes that whispered, ‘This is the right thing to do.’”

What Adoption Day Means: Now We Know They’re Ours

“… I think of adoption day [as] completion,” says Kim Bill, reflecting on her family’s experiences with what is also known as “Gotcha Day.” “We’re done. Our family’s complete. [There’s] relief; there’s nothing that’s gonna keep us from being a family now.”

“Adoption Day #1 was great,” adds Shaun, referring to May 2001 when the couple adopted Tia and Keenan. “Adoption Day #2 was a lot different. We knew what to expect, so there weren’t the nerves.

“… I really felt that I was at the end of a good book,” he explains. “Tia and Keenan were Part One of the book, and Chris and Sophie [are] Part Two. … Beyond that relief, though, was the knowledge that the next day, I would pick up the next book in the series.”

“Adoption,” says Lynn Goffinet, associate executive director of Children’s Community Services and statewide adoption coordinator at LSSI, “symbolizes the beginning of a whole new identity for the children [as well as] the beginning of a new family that includes both their birth and adoptive families. While they may have integrated that child into the family, it’s not official until the finalization.” She notes that for many families, until the judge bangs the gavel, there is always a lurking fear that things may not work out.

Shaun’s dad, Tom Bill, who, along with his brother, was adopted in 1959 at the age of 11, has a different perspective. “Tia and Keenan’s adoption was very special to me,” he says. “I understood the tremendous bond and determination to keeping them together. … I witnessed two kids who were literally taken off the streets, who were abused and neglected, become two kids who are loved deeply. Both have gone through more in their short lives than many people will ever experience. I saw two kids who were willing to reach out and trust one more time in hopes of finding love and a place they could call home.”

Sue Fudge, Kim’s mother, says, “[Adoption Day] was an emotional day. Very emotional. Now we know they’re ours.” She adds, “They’ve been our grandchildren since Day One. They’ve been our grandchildren since they walked into Shaun and Kim’s house. We’re very fortunate to have those four children in our lives.”

“Adoption Day was a very moving experience for me, and I must admit I shed a few tears in the process,” says Tom. “It was a renewal for me, as well as a happy experience for all of us. Adoption doesn’t just touch the heart of a person; it touches their soul. It goes much deeper than people [who haven’t experienced it] can understand. You have to experience it firsthand to know its depth, to know its joy, and to feel, once again, you belong to a family.”

For information on adoption, visit www.AdoptionIllinois.org, LSSI’s adoption Web site.