Couple joins other families in giving children a permanent home on National Adoption Day

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When the Hazlips crowded into Judge Paul Cozza's courtroom on Saturday, staff had to pull extra chairs to the table, and even then Zackery, 8, had to sit on Kizzy's lap.

It was a good thing he was there, because as the judge proceeded through the adoptions of Zackery, Moriah, Deanna and Kristopher, Kizzy Hazlip joined her wife, Sandra, in sniffling, wiping away tears and finally letting it flow. Zackery jumped into the emotional breach with a long hug, and then a tissue.

"I never would have thought that this day would come, that I'd be able to adopt these kids," said Kizzy when the adoptions were complete and family and friends had moved on to picture taking. "I'm happy. Two long years!"

The Hazlip family formally went from two members to six on National Adoption Day, celebrated for the 13th time at the Allegheny County Family Law Center, Downtown. In all, 41 adoptions were completed by Family Division judges, bringing the total for the county this year to 176.

The vast majority, like the newly christened Hazlips, were adopted by their foster parents.

"Adoption is permanent, and it's permanency for children," said Marc Cherna, director of the county Department of Human Services. He said that adoption is the point at which kids from disrupted families finally realize, "These are now my parents. They're going to love me for life."

Kizzy Hazlip, 36, and Sandra Hazlip, 28, have been together for four years and married in Washington, D.C. Shortly after they became married, the Hazlips decided they should try fostering children.

"We always wanted kids," Sandra recalled. "Let's try something."

The two contacted Gwen's Girls, a nonprofit agency that includes a foster parenting program. In late 2011, the agency assigned them Deanna, now 12, and Moriah, 10.

"It was scary, we leaving our brothers" and an 18-year-old sister, said Deanna, shortly after bursting into a chorus of "We Are Family."

The Hazlips hadn't planned on receiving Zackery and Kristopher, 16.

"Basically, [the agency] asked, could we take on the boys?" said Sandra, a security guard. "And we said 'yes.'"

Tripling the population of their household in a matter of months brought "a lot of different changes, a lot of emotions," she said.

The four kids, who had three last names between them, had been in a home with their mother and a boyfriend, but had to rely mostly on their elder sister for any sense of structure.

"The kids hadn't been to the dentist for years, hadn't been to the doctor for years," said Kizzy. "There were times when they would eat once a day.

"For five months, we had to direct them, like how to wash themselves, hey, stealing ain't good," and report cards full of Ds and Es weren't acceptable, she said.

"Now you would not think that these kids were in a home like that," she said. They do chores and make the honor roll.

"We really try to keep sibling groups together because if children are removed from the home, how traumatic is that?" said Mr. Cherna. "So often that's their [closest] bond, especially when their parent was having all of these issues."

Sometimes the department's Children, Youth and Families unit can't place all brothers and sisters together, but finds other creative ways to preserve sibling bonds.

Judge Kathryn M. Hens-Greco on Saturday oversaw the adoption of five siblings to three families that intended to keep them in close contact.

"They get the kids together and they support each other in that way," said Judge Hens-Greco. The kids "will recognize that they're siblings forever, which is very, very powerful."

The judge started handling adoptions as a lawyer in 1987, and finalizing them from the bench in 2006. The concept of family, she said, has broadened during her career.

"As a court, we have come to believe that if a child can't be with their biological parents, we look very broadly at who they can have a relationship with," Judge Hens-Greco said.

That sometimes means adoption by a same-sex couple.

"These are loving people, and there really is no reason why they can't provide a loving home for these children," said Mr. Cherna.

The Hazlip kids call Sandra "Mom" and Kizzy "Dad" -- an arrangement that developed shortly after fate brought them Deanna and Moriah.

"I was trying to let the girls know I was not their dad, I am a female," said Kizzy. She tried to convince them to call her "Mommy," and Sandra "Mom."

"Deanna said, 'I'm not calling you Mommy, I'm calling you Dad, because you're the father figure I never had,' " Kizzy recounted. That logic stuck when the boys showed up. "They're not embarrassed to say it."

Nor has the family's unusual racial composition -- two African-American moms with three white children and one of mixed heritage -- presented a problem so far.

"I have Caucasian people in my family already. My best friend is a Caucasian woman," said Kizzy. The kids, too, had lived in a household that was sometimes racially mixed.

"We didn't have to go through with [adoption]," she said. "We could've still remained as foster parents with them."

Saturday, though, removed any remaining whiff of uncertainty from their family. Said Kizzy: "We weren't giving our babies up."

Rich Lord:

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