By SARA ARTHURS
A group of professionals gathered to raise awareness of child abuse also got to witness the adoption of a toddler on Wednesday.
Brian and Martha Davis adopted their daughter, Autumn, 17 months, in a ceremony at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church. The ceremony was followed by the planting of 379 pinwheels in front of the Hancock County Courthouse.
The Pinwheels for Prevention display is erected annually by Job and Family Services of Hancock County to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect. Each pinwheel represents a case of abuse or neglect reported to the agency.
The Davises have three other adopted children including Autumn’s biological half-brother, Brennan.
Those attending Wednesday’s event were shown a video with interviews of the Davises, Autumn’s birth mother, Heather, and Becky Shumaker, a Job and Family Services caseworker who helped the Davises with the adoption.
Shumaker said Brennan was placed with the Davises when he was about 2. Autumn was born shortly afterward and placed in foster care with the Davis family five days after she was born.
Shumaker said Heather had hoped to keep her children but she had “too many barriers, the biggest one being a drug addiction.”
Heather, 22, has had three children. Autumn and Brennan have a biological sibling living with Heather’s relatives in Indiana.
Shumaker said Heather was herself abused as a child. On the video, Heather shared the pain she experienced about her mother’s addiction and poor treatment of her.
“I don’t want to be the addict my mother was,” she said.
Heather’s mother started doing drugs before she was born, and lost custody of Heather when Heather was 13 or 14. Heather was smoking crack by the time she was 14.
When Brennan was born, “I was irresponsible at the time,” Heather said in the video. She was 18 and was living in a studio apartment with three other people.
Heather’s pregnancy with Autumn was difficult.
“I almost died and she almost died,” Heather said.
During her pregnancy she was doing drugs including methamphetamine and cocaine, and Autumn was born addicted and went through withdrawal.
“I regret it but I can’t take it back,” Heather said.
Brian Davis said he and Martha had tried to have biological children but faced struggles and decided adoption was what they wanted to do. They adopted their first child, Noah, from Guatemala. In addition to Noah, Brennan and Autumn they have another adopted daughter named Anna.
Brian Davis said he spent about an hour and a half talking with Heather at the children’s services agency’s Christmas party. The Davises also have contact with Anna’s birth mother.
The Davises had planned to adopt three children and hadn’t intended to adopt a fourth. But when they received the call that Brennan’s biological sister needed to be in foster care they decided to care for her. Martha visited Autumn in the neonatal intensive care unit when she was a newborn.
Heather said she was thankful the Davises have kept her informed, and that they are keeping the siblings together.
“I want a good life for all of my kids,” Heather said.
Jill Stonebraker, a children’s service administrator at Job and Family Services, said the agency has a new program called Alternative Response in which a social worker will talk with families, without blaming them, and ask how they can help. The goal is to keep families together.
Hancock County Commissioner Mark Gazarek read a proclamation declaring April Child Abuse Prevention Month. Tom Blunk, director of the Center for Safe and Healthy Children, also spoke and said child abuse is linked to drug abuse and, as the area sees an increase in heroin addiction, there will be an increase in child abuse as the two go “hand in hand.”
The adoption hearing was presided over by Judge Allan Davis. Autumn’s parents are not related to the judge.
The judge said when he started out, adoptions were conducted in secret, and this is only the second time in the court’s history an adoption has taken place somewhere other than the courthouse.
The judge asked the Davises if they have contemplated the seriousness of what they were doing and believed it to be in the best interest of their family and of Autumn.
Legally the judge was required to speak to each parent separately, which he did in a back room. After all returned to the room he said “I am convinced without a doubt that it would be in Autumn’s best interest” to be adopted by the Davises. With the parents, Autumn in their arms, standing nearby, the judge signed a paper that he said makes Autumn their daughter forever.
Attendees then walked to the courthouse to plant the pinwheels.
Stonebraker said the 379 pinwheels represent 379 cases of child abuse and neglect reported and investigated by the agency. She said she hopes next year they will not have to plant as many.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
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