Efren Hernandez carried 2-year-old Eddie Leon in his left arm on Saturday outside a second-floor courtroom at the Durango Juvenile Court Center in Phoenix.
“This is my youngest and this is my oldest,” a beaming Nancy Leon, 53, said in reference to her 37-year-old son, Efren, and the toddler nephew she officially adopted at Maricopa County’s annual National Adoption Day.
The event was the first time Leon has become a new mom in 25 years since the Phoenix resident gave birth to her youngest of her first four kids. Eddie is Leon’s first adoptee.
“I feel like I’ve always been a mom. I have 14 grandkids,” Leon said with a laugh, adding later, “He’s in the bunch.”
Leon took in Eddie when he was 5 months old. The woman who birthed Eddie did not complete rehabilitation, so Leon took on motherly duties.
“She’s still his mom,” Leon said of her niece.
Eddie’s situation is not uncommon among adoption families at the annual event held the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Having started in the county in 2000, the event has garnered tens of thousands of adoptions, according to Maricopa County Superior Court. This year, about 80 adoptions occurred — down from last year’s 110.
This year, 27 judges participated in the adoption hearings. Before finalizing any adoption, the judges review the petition to adopt, the consent and report filings from child protective services and testimony from the child’s caseworker.
“There are many family members who are willing to step up and take care of the children,” said Lori Bustamante, presiding judge for Superior Court’s juvenile division, adding, “The first hope is that parents will be able to reunify with them.”
Many of the children adopted through the event have gone through Arizona’s Department of Child Safety, and prospective adopters file a petition requiring consent from the statewide agency, Bustamante explained.
National Adoption Day is always held on its designated Saturday, and proceedings are open to the public during the event. The number of adoptions during National Adoption Day is larger than in other participating jurisdictions in the U.S., adoption attorney Kathryn Pidgeon told The Arizona Republic during the 2022 event.
The in-person adoption event was on a pandemic pause in 2020 and 2021 and was done through videoconferencing in Maricopa County, Pidgeon said. But adoptions never ceased. The event resumed at Durango Juvenile Court Center in 2022.
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The event marked 36-year-old Adina Miller’s second adoption after a family relative had an underage pregnancy. At the time of the pregnancy, Miller had jokingly suggested she could be the expected baby’s new mom. The Tolleson resident’s off-the-cuff remark soon looked like a reality.
“We decided, ‘Yes. We want to take her,'” Miller said of the now 2-month-old Adianna, who slept as her aunt, Deanna Roberts, cradled her.
Miller foster-adopted Hadlee in April 2022. The 3-year-old stared from a distance, smiling at her mom.