Families created in courtroom on National Adoption Day

Jacob Bender-Berg wasn’t always a lucky boy, but on Friday his luck changed forever.

The 4-year-old now has parents and a permanent home.

Dr. Brad Berg and his partner, Chad Bender, stood up in a courtroom Friday and listened as Snohomish County Superior Court Judge David Kurtz changed not only Jacob’s life, but theirs, too. The judge proclaimed “for all time that Jacob is your son.”

Wearing a tie and jacket for the occasion, the little boy sealed the deal when the judge let him strike the gavel.

That’s not always a welcome sound, but Friday wasn’t about crime and punishment. It was National Adoption Day. The annual event, co-sponsored here by the Superior Court and the county clerk’s office, raises awareness of the more than 100,000 children in foster care nationwide waiting to be adopted. It also recognizes the immeasurable gift adoptive parents give.

In Snohomish County, there are about 1,000 kids in foster care, with about 170 now eligible for adoption. For Jacob and 23 other children adopted in Everett on Friday, the wait is over.

Along with Kurtz, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Ellen Fair conducted Friday’s adoption proceedings.

The families created in Kurtz’s courtroom included a couple adopting two small sons, and a grandmother adopting a teenage granddaughter. “In a number of cases, we’re really just cementing the relationship already there,” Kurtz said.

Selena Saenz, 11, now has a permanent home in Lake Stevens with Gina Bailey and Jaime Bartel. Selena has been their foster child for nine months. Before that the girl was cared for by Bartel’s sister.

“As her mothers, do you make a lifelong commitment to take care of her as long as she needs you?” asked Deane Minor, an Everett attorney involved in the adoption process. “Absolutely,” Bailey answered. Minor said later that helping people adopt is “the best part of my job.”

After the ceremony, Bailey said Selena is “the neatest kid.” Her new daughter, she added, was placed in 20 homes before joining her new family.

At just 4, Jacob has been through more than any child should have to endure.

“Our home makes home number eight,” Bender said. He said his new son was removed from a family home due to neglect and malnourishment. The boy later suffered a fractured nose in another home, Bender said.

Jacob is from Snohomish County, but his life is now in Mount Vernon where Berg is a pediatrician. The men, together almost a decade, became licensed foster parents through the state Department of Social and Health Services with the aim of adopting. Jacob has been in their home for five months.

From Mount Vernon, the new family intends to do lots of traveling.

Berg is the founder of Humanity for Children, a nonprofit organization that has developed health clinics in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda in East Africa. The mission has grown to include microfinance projects and church and school partnerships.

Judge Kurtz, during the adoption process, noted Berg’s “global interest” in helping children. The doctor replied that with Jacob, they’ll have “a very local interest.”

As he conducted the adoptions, Kurtz asked children about their day-to-day lives. One little girl told the judge about her cats. Selena said she likes to play basketball.

In an eloquent article in The Herald’s Viewpoints section a week ago, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Adam Cornell wrote about being in foster care, and how adoption saved him. He said that while children’s circumstances are different, there’s a common thread: “A child’s biological parent, or parents, are not ready, willing or able to care for their children.”

On Friday, I met wonderful new parents who are ready, willing and able. Their kids are the lucky ones, free to be concerned with the things of childhood — school and family, pets and basketball.

“This is almost like Christmas,” Kurtz said.

It’s better than Christmas.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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