A day for families in county courtroom

Ca’Jeanna Knox had never been so happy to find herself in juvenile court.

The dimpled 11-year-old, who writes poetry and loves trips to the library, beamed before Judge Marta Diaz offered her a cookie. From the gallery, about a dozen members of the Knox family snapped pictures. Some broke out in applause, others in tears.

The Knoxes had reason to celebrate. They were one of 25 families who finalized adoptions in Diaz’s San Mateo courtroom Tuesday. The judge devoted the entire day to processing adoption filings — the first of its kind, county officials said — and saw a new family in her balloon-festooned courtroom about every 10 minutes. The hallway took on a party atmosphere as parents hoisted toddlers on shoulders and older children tried to catch glimpses of the action.

Diaz decided to host the day both to prevent a backlog of placements and to make sure each adoptive family could take advantage of the $10,000 tax break by year’s end, said Jennie Loft, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Human Services Agency.

Nine of the 25 families, including the Knoxes, were adopting former foster children. Mother Rhonda Knox had three children of her own when she decided to become a foster mother. Ca’Jeanna is the second child she has adopted.

“I’ve always wanted to help kids that weren’t fortunate enough to have parents who could take care of them,” Rhonda Knox said. “We went through a lot of bumpy roads, but everything’s smooth now.”

As the adoption was finalized, Diaz turned to Ca’Jeanna and asked for her signature.

“You’re a big girl now and you have to agree to this,” Diaz said as Ca’Jeanna signed her name with a heart.

“It’s a nice Christmas present,” Rhonda Knox said. “She’s officially my baby now.”

Social work supervisor Maureen Morris said that foster and adoptive parents are always in demand in San Mateo County, particularly for older children, sibling groups and kids with special needs.

Adoption officials say the rising cost of living has also taken its toll on families who are willing to take on another child.

Morris said San Mateo County caseworkers will often look outside the county for a suitable home, and have found adoptive parents as far away as Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Those interested in exploring foster parenting or adoption can receive more information at www.smchsa.org.

tbarak@examiner.com

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