Annual adoption event sees 42 children join their 19 forever families.
Shannon and Keith Cook walked into the Duval County County Courthouse on Dec. 19 with their five children. When they walked out of the courthouse, they had 11.
Theirs was the first hearing on the docket when Circuit Judge David Gooding convened the 15th annual “Home for the Holidays” adoption event, scheduled each year the week before Christmas.
By the time court adjourned, including the six adopted by the Cooks, 42 children joined their 19 forever families.
The multiple-hearing adoption tradition began in Duval County in 2003 on National Adoption Day, the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year, Gooding said.
When he was transferred into the dependency court division in 2004, Gooding said the event was moved to the week before Christmas.
The idea was to connect children with permanent families so the adopted children could truly be home for the holidays, hence the name of the event.
Gooding said that 15 years ago, adoptions primarily were instituted by parents who hired attorneys and there was a backlog of hundreds of cases that were waiting to be heard.
In the years since, adoption has become supported by a network of nonprofits and other agencies, such as Family Support Services of North Florida, that work year-round to help connect children in out-of-home care to adoptive parents.
“The sense of urgency about adoption has improved. The organizations realize how important it is to get children into permanent homes,” Gooding said.
He said research indicates that children raised in foster care are four times more likely to enter the justice system than children who are adopted and those who grow up in foster care are 17 times more likely to become homeless than children who are adopted.
In addition to the 42 children adopted at “Home for the Holidays,” Gooding said he’ll continue to convene adoption hearings and expected to sign adoption orders for at least 50 children the weeks before and after Christmas.
“I’ll sign adoption documents on New Year’s Eve. That way, the parents get the tax credit for the whole year,” Gooding said.
JBA, JSO deliver gifts to seniors
Also on Dec. 19, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office helped the Jacksonville Bar Association by delivering Christmas gifts to seniors who are served by the Meals on Wheels program.
Through the JBA’s Holiday Project, association members purchased, wrapped and delivered requested gifts to about 350 people this year.
Some of the gifts were delivered by attorneys and judges and some were delivered by sworn officers and Community Service Officers from JSO.
Holiday party at Centennial Tower
Duval County Judge Gary Flower and the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association facilitated a holiday party Dec. 12 for more than 100 residents at Centennial Tower near Downtown.
The JWLA members wrapped costume jewelry for the women and socks and neckties for the men and then delivered the gifts, along with sandwiches, cake, cookies and coffee.
It was the second consecutive year that Flower and the association have sponsored the party.