For 9-year-old Nevaeh Andrews, being adopted by her aunt and uncle last Saturday was the beginning of a new life. She was not alone—more than 300 children were adopted in Maricopa County that same day.
November is National Adoption Month and around the country it’s marked with celebrations similar to the one at the Durango Juvenile Court Center, where hundreds of families gathered to finalize the adoption process.
It began with a courthouse ceremony, followed by first family pictures and a party on the lawn that included everything from Santa Claus to Star Wars Storm Troopers to Super Heroes. But the real heroes of the day were families who turned out to make sure there were permanent homes for children who needed them.
“Everybody needs a forever family—every child,” says Marcia Reck, foster care and adoption director with Child Crisis Arizona. “I really don’t know of anything you can do that affects another person’s life more than foster care or adoption.”
She should know—she is herself an adoptive mother.
Nevaeh’s aunt and uncle, Janet and Danny Viloria, adopted her after she’d lived with them for nearly two years. Nevaeh’s mother died after a struggle with substance abuse and her father, Janet’s brother, was sent back to Mexico because of his immigration status. The young couple, in their 20s, have no children of their own but didn’t hesitate to make a difference in Nevaeh’s life.
Janet thinks it’s about a sense of place: “We really wanted to give Nevaeh a family unit and just finalize it.”
“I was kind of on the fence,” Danny admits, “but once you are exposed…you see the greatness in fostering and adopting.”
Janet says she always worked to maintain a good relationship with Nevaeh’s mother so that she would be close to the little girl. She had no idea how important that relationship would be until Nevaeh’s mom died.
Janet and Danny were among the first people called.
Nevaeh’s birth father is grateful, Janet says. “He’s really happy. He thanks us and tells us that he knows Nevaeh is in a really good home and that we’re doing a really good job taking care of her.”
For the past three years, Maricopa County has held boasting rights to the claim of most adoptions of any county in the U.S. in one day.
“Amidst all of the tragedy there are a lot of successes and that’s what today is about—bringing people together and children finding permanency and forever families,” says Kate Manolas, foster care licensing specialist with Child Crisis Arizona, who helps families like the Vilorias navigate the adoption process.
For many children, a foster family—not adoption—is the immediate requirement. On that front, Arizona children are woefully under served, she says. “We only have about 700 to 800 foster families and there are about 16,000 children in care, so there is a huge need.”
Many of the older children end up staying in group homes.
National Adoption Day stresses the importance of foster families and celebrates the forever families that children like Nevaeh now have. “It makes me feel the same safe,” says Nevaeh. “They love me very much and I get to live with them.”