Things that happen in the court system don’t always end well for families. But on Saturday, Sedgwick County District Judge Patrick Walters got to be a part of “one of the good things” by helping 21 families adopt 34 foster children.
It was National Adoption Day, held annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Instead of a court room, Walters and fellow Judges Greg Keith and Kevin Smith held court at Exploration Place for an event organized by Salina-based Saint Francis Ministries.
The judges signed legal documents joining foster children with their “forever families,” granting them legally adopted status.
One new family was the Perezes, two teachers from Wichita who have been waiting more a year to adopt their two foster daughters, 2-year-old Harlie and 1-year-old Sophia.
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The family’s experiences at the Court House haven’t always been positive.
“We’ve just had, I guess, some negative experiences at the court house, so we wanted to do it somewhere different where we could celebrate, where we could be somewhere more positive for the girls,” said Ileana Perez Caro, an assistant principal at Gardiner Elementary School.
“It’s been a very hard struggle,” she said.
“It’s just been a roller coaster with foster care, but we’ve had supportive workers that have helped us through.”
Perez Caro and her wife, Buckner Elementary School gym teacher Andrea Perez, have been married since 2015. They began parenting Harlie and Sophia at eight and six weeks old.
“We’re both educators,” Perez said. “So we knew there was a need to foster and help kids.”
Perez Caro’s father, Ed Perez, traveled from San Antonio to see his daughter and her wife officially become parents.
“I’m very happy for my daughter and her wife. It was a long journey, but they’re happy. I love the girls.
“They were my grandkids already, before the adoption, and now it’s official,” he said.
For Walters, the judge, being able to help children join their “forever families” is one of the most rewarding parts of his job, he said.
“Today is the best day,” Walters said of National Adoption Day.
“It’s the day that we finally get to put families together. And we get to put kids that need a home — want to love somebody, want to be loved — with people that feel the same way. And it’s just joy,” Walters said.
“Today, especially here at Exploration Place where you have all kinds of activities for these kids, it’s a real joy for the kids and it’s a real joy for us,” Walters said.