With balloons, cake and special photographs, Monday’s celebration at the Johnson County Courthouse was two years in the making.

Amy Perry and her fiancé, Dean Belcher, stood with their newly adopted son, Devin. They have been caring for the boy after his parents abandoned him and went through home inspections, educational classes and background checks in order to welcome the 9-year-old into their family.

When Judge K. Mark Loyd gave his decree of adoption, Perry let out a sigh of relief while Belcher wiped away tears.

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“We’re two years into it. This is an obstacle we’re ready to be done with,” Belcher said. “We did this for him, to give him that forever home.”

Devin was one of 10 children officially adopted Monday, completing the process during a special ceremony for Adoption Day in Johnson Circuit Court.

While the event was designed to be a party recognizing a fresh start for the children involved, it also helped raise awareness of the need for more adoptive parents and the kids still waiting for a safe home of their own.

“Adoption is lifesaving for these children,” said Tammi Hickman, director of the Johnson County Court Appointed Special Advocates program. “To have to take a child out of their biological home because of abuse and neglect, what these families do is absolutely critical to give the stability and security and everything we take for granted.”

With the ceremony completed Monday, five children are still on the CASA waiting list to be adopted, Hickman said.

“To be a successful adult, you have to have a foundation. Without family, that foundation is severely cracked,” Hickman said. “In giving these children an adoption and family to call their own, it’s the only way to start that foundation for those kids who didn’t have it to begin with.”

The Court Appointed Special Advocates program serves as protectors for children who have been abused and neglected and who are under the protection of the court. The organization’s volunteers meet regularly with the child, review records and talk to family members and professionals involved in the child’s case. They then serve as the intermediary between the judge and the child.

For Hickman and other volunteers with the organization, Adoption Day is a powerful culmination of a long journey for their wards.

Adoption Day was created by national adoption advocates in order to bring attention to the need for more families to give a home to children in foster care. The campaign recognizes the importance of adoptive parents and the need to provide children involved with a permanent home.

“It’s a wonderful time to try and take all of the children who are going to be in adoption, give them a court day all their own to celebrate a very happy occasion,” Hickman said.

Hickman and other CASA officials have worked closely with the families, helping them through the adoption process at every step.

Perry said, “She’s his angel. Devin realizes the severity of how his parents treated him throughout his life. He sees (Hickman) as his guiding light.”

Devin is Belcher’s nephew. The youngster bounced around between living with both his mother and father, with each abandoning him at different times. When Devin was left with no one else, Belcher and Perry accepted him into their families.

Belcher’s mother was adopted, and a loving family provided her with a stable home. So it had special meaning to be able to do the same for Devin, he said.

In their Camby home, their daughters Meridian, 18, and Lillian, 7, think of Devin as a brother. Devin and Lillian have become particularly close, calling each other best friends and refusing to play without the other one.

“He’s been with us, on and off, throughout his entire life,” Perry said. “They’re like a pair of twins.”

The 9-year-old brings an almost unending energy to the home. From tossing a football in the backyard to taking photographs with his own camera to engaging in a heated video-game session with Belcher or his adoptive sisters, Devin just seems to always be on the go.

“He’s spunky. He’s very active,” Perry said.

But the family had not gone through the court process to officially adopt Devin. When his mother returned in 2014, armed with a court decree stating that she was his mother, there was nothing legally they could do to prevent her from taking him, Perry said.

“We were very, very upset about that,” she said. “Just prior to that, we had started our adoption process. But we hadn’t been in front of a judge yet, so there was nothing we could do.”

A judge ordered Devin’s mother to bring him back to Perry and Belcher, but a contested adoption hearing was scheduled for July. Devin’s mother did not show up for that hearing, nor for another set in October, so the court ruled that her consent was not required for the adoption.

“It was painstaking. There was a lot of lawyers and other people. But a lot of people helped us out throughout this whole thing,” Perry said.

But it was worth it on Monday, as the family excitedly gathered inside the courtroom. A camera around his neck, Devin took photos of his family, the courtroom and banners held up for Adoption Day.

When asked how he felt about finally being adopted, he smiled widely and gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

“We’re so relieved to have it done. It’s great for Devin,” Perry said. “He says this is what he wanted, and we’ve strived to do what he wanted. But I’m elated.”

At a glance

What is adoption?

The voluntary acceptance of a child of other parents to be the same as one’s own child.

What are the requirements to become an adoptive parent?

Adoptive parents are asked to provide an adequate and loving home for an adopted child.

Can be single, married or divorced.

Are financially ready to add children to their family. There is no specific income requirement, and some children may be eligible for financial assistance and medical insurance.

Has enough room for an additional person in their home. A home visit will be required.

Must be able to pass an FBI fingerprint check and fulfill all training requirements.

How long does it take to adopt a child?

Most adoptive parents can meet all state requirements in three to six months, though the process can take longer. The final decision always rests with the court.

Information: 888-25-ADOPT (888-252-3678), in.gov/dcs

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.