CLAYTON, Mo. — Mary Thomas fought back tears Saturday when she was asked before a packed St. Louis County courtroom if she and her husband were prepared to raise the three kids sitting by her side as their own.
"Absolutely, yes," she said with emotion. She held the youngest, Hanzi, in her arms. The 4-year-old girl dressed in a long party dress decorated with red flowers perked up when she heard her name read in the court.
"That's me!" she said.
Hanzi and her siblings were among 30 children who had adoptions finalized Saturday in the St. Louis County Courthouse as part of the county's first National Adoption Day event since 2015. Courts across the country take part in the annual event launched in 2000, opening their doors on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to finalize adoptions and bring attention to the foster care system.
St. Louis Family Court Commissioner Catherine W. Keefe said at the event that reunification with parents is always the first goal of foster care, but when that's not possible or in the best interest of the children, adoptions by family members or other foster parents can be the best option.
"Family is formed in a variety of ways," Keefe said. "It's more than who shares DNA. These people are there for these kids. They are all family."
There were nearly 12,700 children in the Missouri foster care system as of October, down from a peak of 14,265 kids in 2021, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services.
But, Keefe said, the state is still in great need of more foster parents, especially those willing to care for older children and teens. The shortage can sometimes lead to kids being placed in 30-day shelters or other temporary accommodations until a spot in foster care opens, she said.
Mary Thomas and her husband, Paul, of Affton, officially adopted three of five siblings Saturday — Hanzi, Jakobe and Jordan — who they have been caring for as foster parents for more than four years. The children's other two siblings were adopted simultaneously by another foster parent, Jill Schmalz, of Brentwood, who plans to raise the kids in constant connection with their siblings.
"We call each other our 'sister moms,'" Mary Thomas said Saturday.
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