GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kent County judges used their authority to make several families legal Thursday, the county’s 25th annual Adoption Day.
Across six court rooms, 27 kids got the opportunity to change their last names as they finalized adoption paperwork with their families.
In 2019, there were more than 2,100 adoptions in Michigan but fewer than 10% involved kids aged 13 to 17. The Kent County Circuit Court said it finalized paperwork for a record nine teenagers on Adoption Day this year.
One of the teens who was officially adopted Thursday was 14-year-old Pierce Overway.
“They have taken me into their house and have loved me ever since I’ve been here,” Pierce said of his family when the judge asked why he wanted his adoption to be finalized.
The court said the Pierce has spent the last seven years in the foster care system and been placed with 10 different families.
“We’re proud to have him and watch him grow as a young man and mature and have a successful future for himself,” an emotional Jeff Overway said of his new son.
Pierce’s adoption took place through Samaritas and Lutheran Adoption Services.
Several people also watched the adoption process via Zoom.
“I’m so happy that your day is finally here,” Pierce’s aunt, crying tears of joy, said over Zoom. “Wendy, Jeff, thank you so much for not giving up on him through the hard times and keeping him and giving him his forever home. It’s been a long seven years for my poor baby in the system.”
While most of Thursday’s adoption ceremonies were held virtually, Judge Patricia Gardener made an exception for one teen after watching her cycle through the foster care system for almost 3,000 days.
“Can you tell me in your own words why you want this adoption confirmed?” Gardener asked of the teen.
“Because they’re my family,” replied 15-year-old Marissa Holmes, sitting in front of the judge in a baby pink dress specifically chosen for her adoption day.
Holmes has been in the foster care system for almost eight years. She has been placed in 13 homes.
“To say that this has been a long time coming is an understatement. You deserved this long, long ago,” said a tearful social worker as she voiced her department’s support of the adoption.
After a long journey, Marissa made her final stop and became a part of the Holmes family on Thursday morning.
“I wanted to say that I’m very thankful for everyone that’s been here for me and that I love you all,” Marissa said.
As she signed paperwork to make things official, the rest of her new family, friends and classmates watched virtually.
“Marissa, I would just like to say welcome to our family and I’m going to cry. You’ve called me grandma for a long time and now you are (my granddaughter),” said Marissa’s new grandparent.
Her new adoptive parents said they plan to continue showing their daughter what being a family looks like.
“We can make mistakes, we can make errors. We can make a not-so-great choice and I don’t always have to agree with the choices she makes but she is always loved through those choices,” Marissa’s mom Barbara Holmes said.
Marissa said she looks forward to her parents being able to officially call her their own. She also joked that she is excited they will be able to finally post about her to their social media accounts.
The Holmes family says they hope sharing their story will inspire others to look into adoption.
Judge Patricia Gardener says ceremonies like Thursday’s underline the extreme need for more foster families and adoptive parents.
“Any time you have a child enter the system, they enter with much concern, and you wonder what will be their journey,” Gardener said. “(Being adopted is) a dream finally realized for a teenager when that sometimes doesn’t happen for all teens in child welfare.”
The state says there are about 13,000 children in foster care. For more information on becoming a foster parent or adoption, click here.