Judge Susan Dobrich with Jessica and James Gibson, who adopted color-coordinated sisters Marissa, 7; Carlee, 5; and Jenna, 3, on Tuesday. Marissa is a second grader and Carlee is in kindergarten at Patrick Hamilton Elementary School in Dowagiac. (The Daily News/John Eby)
Judge Susan Dobrich with Jessica and James Gibson, who adopted color-coordinated sisters Marissa, 7; Carlee, 5; and Jenna, 3, on Tuesday. Marissa is a second grader and Carlee is in kindergarten at Patrick Hamilton Elementary School in Dowagiac. (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Six adoptions finalized in Judge Dobrich’s court

Published 10:00am Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dowagiac Daily News

CASSOPOLIS – Marissa, Carlee and Jenna were foster children placed in James and Jessica Gibson’s care in February 2008.

Tuesday, Michigan Adoption Day as proclaimed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the color-coordinated sisters became a permanent part of the family.

“When we got the girls, the original intent was to be foster parents,” said James, youth pastor at Victory Tabernacle church in Dowagiac. “This was our first time, but we’re foster parents again. We have another girl with us who’s older.”

Jenna, 3, is in Head Start. Carlee, 5, attends kindergarten at Patrick Hamilton Middle School, where Marissa is in second grade.

James and Jessica filled Judge Susan Dobrich’s Cass County Family Courtroom.
“The lawyers are happy,” Dobrich said in a rasp. “I’ve lost my voice.”

“It was about half and half,” James said. “Half family, half church.”

In the latter group would be Beth Ernest, interim pastor of Federated Covenant Church for the past two years.

She leaves Dowagiac Dec. 6, with new pastors Jennifer and Rob Lowe arriving the next day.

“It’s been a long road, but it’s been a good road,” James said of the adoptions being finalized.

June 27 in Joplin, Mo., Pentecostal Church of God churches assembled for their annual national Bible quiz tournament, which Dowagiac won.

Gibson’s team from Victory Tabernacle on Middle Crossing Road kept their cool in 100-degree weather to finish first in the United States.

For Gibson, who is originally from Flint and came to his wife’s hometown three years ago, this was the second national title with which he has been associated.
He was an assistant coach of a winning junior high team in 1996.

Adoption Day, which has been celebrated in Michigan for seven years, falls on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a festive time for families followed by Christmas.

Gibsons’ caseworker, Kristen (Anderson) Chism, grew up in Dowagiac.

In fact, as a Kincheloe third grader in 1990, she appeared in the first Beckwith Theatre production, “Death Unrehearsed.”

Chism has been with Cass County Department of Human Services (DHS) for a year and a half.

She attended college at Michigan State University, moved back and earned her master’s degree at Andrews University in Berrien Springs.

“It’s a hard job and you have to make a lot of hard decisions,” Chism said of Adoption Day, “so it’s nice to see when happy stuff happens for the kids. All six kids today are my kids, so it’s a good day. My caseload isn’t very high right now – 23 or 24.”

Chism was seated in the courtroom with adoption worker Sarah Henry of Bethany Christian Services in Kalamazoo.

Tamela Phillips, former DHS adoption worker for Cass County, is now supervising foster care licensing for Cass and St. Joseph counties.

She spends more time in Centreville than Cassopolis these days.

“I was the only adoption worker Cass had,” Phillips said. “I think I did it for eight years. I did 150 over my time period. As an adoption worker in the past, I really miss these court hearings with Judge Dobrich and celebrating forever families being made. That’s what we’re here for. Adoption Day is also about kids waiting to be adopted. It takes a lot to get to this point. We’re very fortunate in this county to have CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers,” who advocate for their young charges in court.

“This isn’t the end of the process, but the beginning of another step on a long road ahead that is hopefully a wonderful road,” Phillips said.

DHS Director Chris Kadulski also has the two-county perspective.

“This is a joint effort between (DHS), private adoption agencies as well as the State Court Administrator’s Office. Cass County has been involved right from the beginning. There have been 2,700 adoptions statewide since last year, but there are still a number of children who need permanent homes. Children need permanency in their lives.”

“Adoption touches all of our lives, whether it’s our immediate families or our friends,” said Bethany’s program manager, noting her own son and his wife are adopting. She has been doing child social work for 36 years.

Dobrich also finalized adoptions for brothers Jonathon and William to join Burt and Heidi Westfall’s family in Cassopolis.

In a relative placement, Ayden, 20 months, became a part of Nicholas and Christina Anthony’s Branch County family. He has been with the Anthonys for 15 months and will have two older brothers, 6 and 7.

In each adoption finalized Nov. 24, Judge Dobrich asked parents if their decision was “well thought out” and not coerced, forced or influenced by promises.

Are they ready to accept full responsibility for raising the child, including full support, educational and medical needs?

If something unfortunate happened to your spouse, do you realize the child will be your sole responsibility?

If something happens to your relationship itself, issues will need to be brought into Family Court to be addressed.

Finally, do you love the child? Will you provide for their emotional well-being?

Each child was presented with a Tommy Moose stuffed animal from Moose Lodge 933 in Dowagiac, a personalized sheet cake from Family Fare in Dowagiac to take home and an engraved frame from Scott Ward, owner of S&R Jewelers in Cassopolis.

“Cake symbolizes that it’s a celebration,” Dobrich said.

Michigan’s adoption services program has as its goal placing children in adoptive homes as quickly as possible following termination of parental rights.

Whenever possible, adoptive placements are made with families who already have an existing relationship or attachment to the child (relatives, foster parents). Every effort is made to keep siblings together.

The DHS adoption services program provides service to children whose parental rights have been terminated due to child abuse or neglect and to families who want to adopt.
Services are provided either directly by local DHS office adoption staff or through contracts with 49 Michigan child-placing agencies.

Many children who are available for adoption qualify for adoption assistance to help families with some of the costs of bringing children into their homes through adoption.
Adoption assistance may consist of support subsidy (financial support), medical subsidy (payment for certain remedial services) and assistance with the administrative costs of processing the adoption.

Although not all adopted children are eligible for adoption assistance, for eligible children, adoption assistance continues until the child turns 18.

More than 27,000 adopted children are receiving ongoing support subsidy.

Children receiving adoption assistance generally have special circumstances that make finding an appropriate adoptive home more challenging – they may be older children, members of a racial or ethnic minority, part of a sibling group or have physical, mental or emotional impairments.

The total amount of adoption support subsidy paid to adoptive families by Michigan is approximately $216 million annually.

The amount of medical subsidy is more than $7 million annually.

Adoption Day raises awareness of more than 129,000 children in the U.S. foster care system who are waiting to find permanent homes with loving families.

In 2007, the average wait for a child who was in need of an adoptive family was more than two years.

More than 26,000 children turned 18 without ever finding a family.

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