Families give thanks during Cass County’s observance of Adoption Day

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- Theirs are but four stories among 240 on the historic first Thanksgiving-themed Michigan Adoption Day Tuesday.
Ashley Frontczak, 18, had to voluntarily sign court papers certifying her consent because she's older than 14 to complete her adoption by her stepfather, Robert.
The Dowagiac cheerleader's celebratory cake was appropriately adorned.
Chad and Jennifer, a Dowagiac couple ages 25 and 27, have a son, Eric, 8, and now Autumn, 2, and Tommy, 18 months. A SpongeBob cake appeared on the courtroom table, emblematic of a ceremony the judge equates to marriage in its ability to forge family traditions.
After raising two children of her own, Patricia Withers of Dowagiac is starting over with her grandson, Anthoney, 3, whose adoption was completed Tuesday morning before Judge Susan Dobrich in Cass County Family Court. Hot Wheels cars decorated Anthoney's cake. Withers was accompanied by Anthoney's CASA volunteer, Marge Grochow.
To finalize each adoption, Dobrich asked the parents if their decision was well-thought-out.
Jim Nye, deputy director of field services administration for the Michigan Family Independence Agency (FIA) was introduced by Cass County FIA Director Christopher Kadulski. "Basically, he's in charge of almost everything that goes on in the state," said Kadulski, who also accompanied Nye to the St. Joseph County FIA in Centreville.
Nye said he and his wife adopted her niece in April.
Kadulski said, "The children we serve have been traumatized in many ways. The birth family connection has been broken and so have their spirits. As a judge," he told Dobrich, "you build families and bring back faith, trust and hope to children. You put the puzzle of their lives back together, building one family at a time. By building strong families, you are promoting a healthier community for everyone."
Dobrich, shedding tears of joy, said, "We have a lot of sad things that happen in this courtroom. This is the best part of the whole job," which is why each adoption is celebrated with a personalized cake from Felpausch.
Michigan Adoption Day was scheduled for Nov. 25 -- two days before Thanksgiving -- with the theme "Giving Thanks for Families."
Dobrich was part of a work group convened by Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Maura Corrigan, in cooperation with FIA.
Their task, the judge said, "was to study what was going wrong with the Michigan adoption system. Actually, we found that things weren't going wrong, but we would like to make things go better. The work group noted that in Michigan, as of July 31, 2003, there were 12,673 children who were temporary wards of the court as a result of child protective proceedings. As of this date, a total of 19,490 children were in foster care, so there's an additional 7,000 who are in foster care who may be delinquent wards."
At the end of FY 2000, Dobrich said, Michigan had 4,615 permanent state wards available for adoption, with 283 adoptions finalized in that fiscal year.
National Adoption Day, observed on Nov. 22, showed 126,000 children in foster care in the United States while waiting to be adopted.
Half a million were temporary wards -- "just an astronomical number," the judge said, "larger than the populations of Wyoming and Montana."

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