Giggles and shouts of joy echoed inside the Johnson County Courthouse on Monday afternoon.

Despite the official courtroom setting, Serenity Cox, 5, and her 4-year-old brother Wyatt Cox were too excited to sit still. They played on padded leather chairs, ran up to talk to bailiffs and judges, and at times laughed uncontrollably.

After years of foster care and uncertainty, the two children were finally joining a family for forever.

“They’re a handful, but it’s a joy,” said Emma Cox, who finalized her adoption of Serenity and Wyatt on Monday. “I’d advise anybody to give a child a home, if they don’t have one to call their own. I’m excited to let them have a childhood. They haven’t really been able to have brothers and sisters and a mom and dad.”

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Cox and her husband, Tim, spent the day celebrating as they welcomed the two newest members to their family. Serenity and Wyatt Cox were one of the 16 adoptions completed in Johnson County, taking part in a tradition known as National Adoption Day.

The event was designed as a party recognizing a new start for the children involved, but it also helped raise awareness of the need for more adoptive parents and the kids still waiting for a safe home of their own.

“Many, if not most, of the sessions we have in juvenile court aren’t always happy days. We have lots of tough and difficult hearings that we hear as a lead up to what we do today, so it’s a real privilege and high honor for us to be here today,” said Juvenile Magistrate Andrew Roesener. “Three days before Thanksgiving seems like an appropriate time to be doing this.”

Families filled the courtroom Monday, waiting for their turn in front of Roesener and Judge K. Mark Loyd. Each was questioned by the court about their motivations, their background and how they came into the lives of their soon-to-be adopted children.

After making the adoption official, parents, kids, siblings and extended family posed for photographs. Afterward, they celebrated with cupcakes and gifts.

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 with a permanent home.

Indiana’s Department of Child Services has made a concerted effort to increase adoptions over the past three years, developing a special website and celebrating the families who go through the process.

From 2014 to 2016, adoptions in the state increased from 1,038 to 1,509.

Adoption Day celebrations have been ongoing throughout November in courthouses across Indiana. Approximately 220 children joined their “forever families” during special ceremonies in 24 counties.

In Johnson County, the event was organized by the Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, program. The agency serves as protectors for children who have been abused and neglected and who are under the protection of the court.

“This is our fourth year doing it, and it’s one of my favorite days,” said Tammi Hickman director of CASA. “We have a few adoptions spread throughout the year, but they’re always lumped in between the other hearings. It’s nice when we can make a full afternoon of it. When we can make it a special day like this, it’s nothing but celebration, and that’s exactly the way it should be.”

For those involved with the long process, Adoption Day is a powerful culmination of a long journey.

Tim and Emma Cox of Campbellsville, Kentucky, have known Serenity and Wyatt nearly their entire lives. They would often babysit the children when they were small, and their mother asked the couple to care for Serenity when she was just 4 months old.

They kept her for about one year, at which point her parents returned. Even though they moved from Kentucky to Indiana, they stayed in contact with them.

“They’re just part of our family,” Tim Cox said. “We’ve known them since they were little.”

About one year later, child protective services removed Serenity and Wyatt from their parents and placed the children in foster care. That’s when Tim and Emma Cox re-entered the children’s lives.

“We fought to get them back in our family,” Emma Cox said.

The adoption process was a long and complicated one, made more so by the fact that the Cox family was living in Kentucky and Serenity and Wyatt were in Indiana.

Working with the CASA program, they navigated the process over the past five months. CASA volunteers reviewed records and talked to family members and professionals involved in the child’s case.

They then served as the intermediary between the judge and the child.

“It was nerve-wracking. It seemed like every time I turned a corner, something else was going wrong,” Emma Cox said. “But I laid it in God’s hand, and that’s when everything turned around and worked out.”

At a glance

How to get involved

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), adoptachild.in.gov

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