110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
42 children find homes locally during National Adoption Month
By Pat Andrews
posted Dec 3, 2012 - 11:55:01am
Taking two teenage boys into the family is not your stereotypical picture of adoption, but that’s what happened on the Friday before Thanksgiving.
Those boys and 40 other children who were wards of the state became members of 13 families during a ceremony Nov. 16, as part of National Adoption Month.
The 7th Judicial Circuit, the local office of the Florida Department of Children and Families, and Community Partnership for Children put together the event in Daytona Beach. Five judges presided over the adoption finalizations.
Afterward, members of one family had grins from ear to ear. That was the newly knitted-together Melton family of DeLand, which added the two teenage boys to its ranks. Mom Judith Melton was one of three West Volusia residents who adopted children Nov. 16 through Community Partnership for Children.
Not that Judith Melton didn’t already have children. She had two teenage boys of her own, Donald “Lee,” 18, and Dakota “Koty,” 15, when she added 17-year-old Cody Cunningham and 16-year-old Casey Cunningham to the brood.
“What happened was, we had known them since Casey was about 7 or 8. He started hanging around with my kids,” Judith Melton said.
Things didn’t start rolling toward adoption until Spring Break in 2011.
“It was March. Casey came over and hung out like usual,” Judith said.
When Judith suggested to Casey that he might need to go home to prepare for the return to school, she learned Casey had no place to go, and he hadn’t been attending school. Casey’s father was in prison, and his mother was wanted by law enforcement.
So Judith told Casey to stay at her house while they figured something out.
The Department of Children and Families formally placed Casey in Judith’s care; she became his “non-relative guardian.”
Cody was nowhere to be found at that point.
When he was found, Cody was first placed in a group home. He came to the Melton household in 2012.
Then, an adoption specialist got involved, suggesting Judith make the arrangement permanent through adoption. The specialist got all the paperwork ready for the adoption to be finalized during the special ceremony.
The natural parents’ parental rights were terminated. Also, Casey and Cody agreed to the adoption, as part of the process. Keeping their original last names helped the boys keep their sense of identity, Judith said.
Both Casey and Cody have been through counseling to help them deal with the experiences that led them to be without a home before Judith’s.
Now, Judith is a single mom with four teenage boys.
The family lives in a three-bedroom house near Woodward Avenue Elementary School. When The Beacon visited, the home was filled with the boys and their friends. The four siblings joked with their friends and got serious for only a moment, to say they are happy with the arrangement, although, as Lee said, “We never get away with anything.”
Judith works from home as an online medical transcriptionist, which helps her keep an eye on her brood and their friends. She’s always preferred the kids to be in her house rather than out somewhere, where she doesn’t know what they’re doing, she said.
There is some financial assistance. Judith gets an adoption subsidy that helps with the finances, and the state will pay for college for the two boys.
“It’s neat — it’s just a bigger family, that’s all. They’re both really good kids, and I couldn’t let them stay in the system,” she said.
It was in Judge James Clayton’s court that the various legal and family decisions were made to bring Casey and Cody into the household, Judith said.
“I thought he was an awesome judge. He went through all of this with us,” she said.
After the ceremony, she asked Judge Clayton to join the family for a photo.
Clayton, an advocate for adoption, shared his thoughts on the matter.
Adoptive parents are giving parents, for whom he has the utmost admiration, he said.
“It takes a concerted effort to take on a child,” Clayton said, “but everybody benefits. The children, society, we all benefit. The shame of it is there are so many people out there who would make good adoptive parents.”
Just bringing a child into the world doesn’t make one a good parent, the judge said.
“It’s being available — spending time with the children, eating dinner together as a family, sitting down to help with homework, then bedtime,” Clayton said.
The judge said if all parents did these things, the prison population would drop in one generation.
Anyone who’s thought about becoming an adoptive parent should check into it, Clayton urged. Part of the process will be learning what to expect, and whether adoption truly is a good choice.
Prospective adoptive parents must take classes, pass a background check, and have a medical exam.
“It’s a process,” Clayton said, but there are children all the way to middle-school age “who are dying for a family to help them.”
Continued assistance is available for whatever an adopted child may be dealing with, including emotional, medical, physical or developmental hurdles.
Clayton called working with adoptions “the most rewarding aspect of being a judge.” He said when an adoption goes through, often everyone in the court — him, the clerk and the bailiff — has tears in his or her eyes.
To find out more about adopting, call Community Partnership for Children at 386-238-4900, or visit online at www.Communitypartnershipforchildren.org. Also visit the state’s website, adoptflorida.com, to learn more about the process and the children available for adoption.
Right now, around 800 children in foster care around the state are available for adoption and want permanent families, the Department of Children and Families reports. Usually, older children, especially teenagers with siblings, wait the longest for homes. Teenagers account for a fifth of the children waiting for adoption.
Jo Lynn Deal at Community Partnership for Children provided statistics for the three-county area her agency covers: Volusia, Flagler and Putnam.
• In 2011, there were 178 adoptions. So far this year, there have been 107.
• Currently 42 children are eligible for adoption and seeking homes.
• In the three-county area, 1,441 children were in the child-welfare system on Oct. 1. Of those:
• 58 were in foster care
• 623 lived with a relative
• 379 received care in their homes
• 81 were in other situations, including newly placed in adoption or runaways.
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