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Families become official for 200 L.A. County children on Adoption Day

Judge Michael Nash has hosted “Adoption Saturdays” about four times a year since 1998

The big morning had finally arrived.

"We're about to have what we've wanted so long," said Marc Bennett, 52.

He stood nervously in a courthouse hallway next to Nestor, his husband, clutching the hands of two little boys who were about to become their adopted sons.

"For a long time, I never thought I'd have children of my own," he said. "I didn't even know it was really possible."

Soon, the Bennetts found themselves in a courtroom, signing a stream of paperwork and listening to a smiling judge make a simple statement: "The children are now adopted."

It was a joyful moment experienced repeatedly by dozens of others Saturday morning at the Edmund D. Edelman Children's Court in Monterey Park. Part of the 15th annual National Adoption Day, 200 children were legally made part of new families.

"Two hundred kids leaving this courthouse with new beginnings," said the court's presiding judge, Michael Nash.

In 1998, Nash helped start a program aimed at cutting down L.A. County's backlog of adoption cases. Since then, about four times each year he's hosted "Adoption Saturdays," when hopeful guardians and the kids they've been temporarily caring for see their cases expedited in single mornings.

"This has been a huge hit," said Nash, who is at year's end retiring after nearly 20 years leading the juvenile court. He noted that the Saturday events have helped formalize 35,000 adoptions and become a national model.

Despite the success, the need for adoptive and foster parents remains high. In L.A. County alone, there are about 20,000 children in foster care, with roughly 1,600 currently waiting for adoption, according to Constance Farrell, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Children's Rights, a lead organizer of the Saturday events.

The Bennetts — who adopted siblings Landon, 4, and Parker, 3 — were just two of the scores of new and proud parents at the crowded courthouse, which was festooned with balloons. Among the parents were African Americans, whites, Latinos, Asians, straights and gays. The kids were cut from the same wide cast, ages 1 to 16.

Marc Bennett, a pharmaceutical salesman from Palmdale, noted that he and his husband first began to consider adoption through an outreach effort targeting gay parents. "This shows the broader change that's going on in society," he said. "The kids don't know any different. To them, we're their dads and will always be."

As with the other parents on hand, adoption wasn't an easy process for the Bennetts. There was plenty of paperwork. There were background checks and bureaucracy. Before they could adopt Landon and Parker, the Bennetts first had to become the foster parents to both children. Then they had to wait for the boys' troubled mother to have her parental rights terminated.

On Saturday, those hassles seemed far in the distance. Just after the adoption was legalized, Landon and Parker played in a courthouse foyer, clutching balloons. Padding near them was a little girl, their sister, 19-month-old Josephine, whom the Bennetts are also caring for and hope soon to adopt.

There will be plenty of time in years ahead to explain the day's significance. "We're already envisioning that day," Marc Bennett said, "telling them about the morning we officially became family, when we all came together, because of love."

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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