Hector Rivera got a phone call a little over a year ago.

It was equal parts tragic and hopeful.

A pregnant woman had died, and her unborn child was delivered at an area hospital alive but alone, the voice on the other end of the phone said.

The boy was in need of a home. And Rivera — who already fostered and adopted three children with his partner, Omar Oropeza — was a perfect fit. 

They began caring for the boy 12 days after he was born, and he’s been with them ever since.

With the healthy boy wavering between smiles and tears and giggles and shouts, a judge inside a Durango Juvenile Court Center room finalized his adoption Saturday. 

The boy’s new legal name: Sylas Omar Rivera.

“We’ve just always made sure we were there for him emotionally,” Rivera said after the hearing. ”For us, it’s the happiest day. No matter what, we’ll always be able to be there for him for the rest of his life.”

Nationwide celebration of adoption

Judges at Maricopa County Superior Court expected to finalize 229 adoptions Saturday during the 18th annual National Adoption Day event. The number was down from the 331 finalized during 2014’s county celebration and continued a downward slide from recent years.

But that didn’t dampen the mood Saturday. 

Dale Masi, 56, and his wife, Dawn, formally adopted 12-week-old Delannie during the event. One of Dawn’s family members gave birth to the girl and was planning an adoption before the Masis stepped forward.

“We just couldn’t wait for today to come,” Dale said, moments after walking out of the courtroom, throwing his arms in the air and shouting “Wooo!” like an athlete who just took gold in the Olympics.

National Adoption Day is a nationwide effort intended to raise awareness about the prominence of children in foster care awaiting placement into permanent families. More than 110,000 children nationwide are in such situations, event organizers said, and children are in foster care for an average of three years before being adopted. 

Since the inaugural event in 2000, the one-day ceremony has finalized the adoption of approximately 65,000 children — last year’s event finalized “forever families” for 4,700 youth across the country. 

Maricopa County was among the first areas to embrace the effort and has repeatedly hosted the largest celebration in the country, drawing on a legion of volunteers and court staffers the Saturday before Thanksgiving. 

Kathryn Pidgeon has been an adoption attorney for 25 years, and she co-chairs the Maricopa County Adoption Day celebration. She handled Rivera’s cases over the years, along with scores of others. 

“Their stories are unique,” she said of each of her clients and their children. “They’re all different. There’s definitely a journey involved getting to this day.” 

More than 6,300 children are in foster care in Arizona, according to an October report from the Arizona Department of Child Safety. While that figure has held steady in recent years, the number of kids in “out-of-home” care — including with foster families, in kinship placement with relatives, or in other shelters — dropped below 16,000 in September apparently for the first time in years.

That’s down from more than 18,906 in March, 2016, a time when Gov. Doug Ducey highlighted child welfare woes during a State of the State speech.

In Arizona, a court must certify would-be parents as acceptable to adopt children.

That process includes a written application, an orientation meeting, multiple background investigations and an assessment of an adoptive parent’s physical and mental health along with his or her “moral fitness.”

How to get involved

A range of choices exists for those interested in helping children in foster care. Among the options, as highlighted in previous reporting by The Arizona Republic

  • Contribute to a foster-care organization. Lawmakers have created an extra incentive for you to do so: They increased the amount of tax credit individuals can claim to $500; for couples, it’s $1,000.
  • Donate to other charities. Even if they’re not obviously linked to child welfare, your donation could help shore up struggling families.
  • Donate your time. Donations don’t have to be financial. Child Crisis Arizona, for example, recruits volunteers for a one-year commitment to help play with the children in their shelters, as well as other tasks. Volunteers must apply and pass a fingerprint clearance.  
  • Volunteer to be a court-appointed special advocate. It’s a part of the child-welfare system that relies on volunteers to attend court hearings to stand up for the children involved. Contact 602-452-3407 or azcasa.org.
  • Serve on a foster-care review board. This is another volunteer position that has been severely understaffed. Contact 602-452-3400 or www.azfcrb.org. 
  • Train to be a foster parent. The state is always looking for individuals and families willing to take kids into their homes. Contact 877-KIDS-NEEDU (877-543-7633) or www.azkidsneedu.gov.
  • Adopt. The contact information is the same as for foster parents. DCS also has information on foster and adoptive care at dcs.az.gov/services/foster-care-and-adoption.

Reach the reporter at 602-444-8515, [email protected] or on Twitter: @pohl_jason


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