Each year, some 135,000 adoptions take place in the U.S. alone — 59 percent of which are from the foster care system. The long-awaited unions often come after months of waiting for cases to finally make it through the court system, and after thousands of dollars in legal fees have already added up.
But on Friday, November 17 — National Adoption Day — 32 lucky “forever families” were finally able to walk into LA County Children’s Courthouse and make things official, thanks to a dedicated team of lawyers who donate their spare time each year to fulfilling local adoption cases free of charge.
It’s all part of a pro-bono program that was launched by The Walt Disney Company back in 2013 in partnership with Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro-bono law firm. In the years since, the program has united some 219 forever families, including those that were finalized at the LA County Children’s Courthouse last month.
Rob Stevenson, Associate Principal Counsel for The Walt Disney Company, has been coordinating the program since it first began, and tells Babble that it’s been an incredible experience for everyone involved.
“[There are] a lot of tears, a lot of hugs, a lot of pictures. It’s just great to be a part of it,” says Stevenson, who explains that the unions are especially moving since they involve children who’ve been in the L.A. foster care system for some time, after being removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
As you might imagine, the process certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Stevenson explains that first, legal teams of three or more are organized, before they’re assigned to a family to help navigate them through the adoption process and start a case file. Next, he says, comes a lot of waiting.
“It takes about six weeks from the moment that you get the case file to when you’re able to file and get a court date for that finalization hearing,” Stevenson explains. “And then that finalization hearing is usually a couple of weeks after that. Start to finish, you’re looking at two, [to] two-and-a-half months.”
And during those weeks, you can bet there’s a lot of anticipation building among the families who are eagerly awaiting their happy ending.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened with James and Estella Christiansen, who waited patiently several months this year for 16-year-old Zachary to legally be declared their son by an LA County Courthouse judge. The Christiansens were just one of the 32 families whose adoptions were finalized by Disney lawyers on November 17, and they say their excitement on that day couldn’t be matched.
“Today is a day of celebration that the three of us that have spent our whole lives together, or Zachary’s whole life together, are finally being united both emotionally and legally for the first time,” James said shortly before heading into court.
“I’m very excited,” added Estella. “I want to cry — and I want to scream! I’m so excited that it’s coming to an end now. It’s finalized and this is what we’ve been waiting for.”
Head over to Babble.com to read more about this amazing deed by Disney!