Dozens of families grew larger yesterday as Allegheny County Family Court judges finalized the adoptions of 49 children.
"I am very happy to sign this order," Judge Kathleen R. Mulligan told Terry and Carol Bouchard, of Brookline, as two dozen family members and spectators applauded.
Judge Mulligan then stepped down from the bench to present the Bouchards' new daughter, Lexie Jae, 9, with a stuffed bear.
Children adopted yesterday from the county's foster care program ranged from 1 to 14 years of age, according to county officials. The court proceedings were the highlights of the National Adoption Day program that drew hundreds of people Downtown to the county's Family Law Center.
While families waited for their final sessions with the judges, children and adults were entertained by magicians, a juggler, a balloon artist and a ventriloquist. Mr. McFeely, the "Speedy Delivery" postman played by actor David Newell on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," chatted with and signed photos for youngsters being adopted and their brothers and sisters.
"There usually is a lot of pain, fear and anguish in this building," Judge Mulligan said. "But it is transformed on adoption day."
"This is one of the best days we have here," agreed Marc Cherna, director of the county's Department of Human Services, who noted that the need for foster parents and adoptive families remains great. Allegheny County has about 1,700 children under its care.
Prior to her adoption, Lexie had lived with the Bouchards for nearly two years. She joined a family with five other children, all age 10 or younger. Terry, 56, and Carol, 53, have a total of six grown children from previous marriages. In addition to Lexie, they have adopted two young sons and have three foster children living with them.
Lexie said they all get along well.
"I love playing with my little brother," she said of Tristan, 3. Her big brother, Alex, 10, is showing her how to dance. Her foster siblings are Zachary, 9; Ryana, 3; and Felicity, 1.
Lexie ordinarily uses a two-wheeled walker to get around, but she had a surprise yesterday for Judge Mulligan, who has seen her many times during her foster care and adoption proceedings. She was a little wobbly, but she walked on her own to the judge.
Lexie has a genetic condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, which makes her bones very brittle, as well as dwarfism. She has had three surgeries in the past two years and is being treated with human growth hormone, her mother said.
Mrs. Bouchard said she had a very personal reason for adopting.
"I had a very bad childhood," she said. "So many times I wished that someone would come and take me to a better place."
Family court judges and the Department of Human Services work with multiple private agencies to place children in foster care into permanent homes.
JoAnn White, herself an adoptive mother, is director of one of those agencies, the Family Hope Connection of the Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh.
"The purpose of National Adoption Day is to raise awareness about children in foster care who do not have families and who are legally free for adoption," she said. "The message is that all children deserve to grow up in loving, permanent homes."
Len Barcousky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-0184.