STEUBENVILLE - Sharon "Sam" and Michael Bell of township Road 167, Mingo Junction, became foster parents five years ago with the dream of adopting children.
Their dream came true Tuesday during an adoption hearing before Jefferson County Probate Judge Sam Kerr.
November is Adoption Awareness Month.
NEW FAMILY — The Bell family got a little bigger Tuesday with the adoption of two girls during a hearing in Jefferson County Probate Court. November is Adoption Awareness Month. Participating in the hearing were, from left Probate Judge Sam Kerr, Michael Bell, holding Pyper, and Sharon “Sam” Bell, holding Ava. - Mark Law
The Bells have had 32 foster children during the past five years through the Jefferson County Job and Family Services, Children Services Division.
The Bells are now the official parents of 11-month-old Pyper and 3-year-old Ava. The girls, who have different biological parents, were given to the Bells as foster children right after they were born.
Sam said she wanted to become a foster parent after she saw a girl in day care who was given up by her parents. She wanted to take care of the child and proposed the idea of foster parenting to her husband.
After the first foster child, Sam remembers thinking, "Oh my God, what have we done."
"It was always in the front of our mind that we wanted to adopt," she said.
The couple plans to remain as foster parents.
Michael knew when they got Pyper and Ava that they would one day be their own.
"I feel they have been ours since we got them," he said.
But the Bells have felt the heartache of all foster parents when children in their care were returned to the biological parents or relatives.
"After the first one (foster child), we thought we wouldn't do it again," Michael said. "It was devastating," Sam added.
Tracey Dailey, adoption coordinator for children services, said there are 21 foster family homes in the county. Of those, 18 are foster-to-adopt homes, she said.
Parents receive extensive training before becoming foster parents.
Once children services receives permanent custody of a child, the six-month or longer process of adopting the children begins. The agency handles four or five foster-to-adoption cases a year.
"It really depends on the number of children at the time," Dailey said.
"It builds families through foster care. We do a lot of research when we place kids to make sure it is a good fit. We know the placements may be long-term and that makes a successful foster-to-adopt," she said.
Ava was crying loudly outside the probate courtroom Tuesday. She was then brought into the courtroom and ran up to Sam, who was on the witness stand. The Bells' attorney, Adrian Hershey, then jokingly asked Sam if "in spite of all this, are you still willing to adopt?" She didn't hesitate in saying "yes."
Hershey said he really enjoys the adoption hearings.
"I like adoption hearings. Everyone walks away happy. Everyone thinks it is the right thing to do in getting a new family launched," he said.
Kerr said adoption hearings are the best part of his job as judge.
"These families take the children in as foster parents and fall in love with them. It is a real pleasure to assist in that process," Kerr said, adding he has presided over the cases involving the children from the time they are removed because of abuse and neglect.
Dailey said both girls are very attached to Michael, adding Pyper was usually on his lap when she visited as part of the home inspection process. She said Ava wouldn't be that far away.
Michael said foster parents need to really love kids. The Bells have had as many as five foster children at a time.
"We have been going nonstop for five years," Sam said.
"It was all worth it," she said, holding a bottle for Pyper. Both mom and daughter had big smiles on their faces.
Children services will be hold preservice training classes for foster or foster-to-adopt parenting beginning on March 5. Contact Dailey at (740) 282-0961, extension 1112, or Joan Dohnal, foster care coordinator, at (740) 282-0961, extension 1113, for information.