LIMA — A few years ago, Brycson was a pupil in Stephanie Batchelder’s kindergarten class.
Now, he’s her son.
Nothing — not even the coronavirus pandemic — could stop that. Stephanie, 35, and her husband, 38, adopted 10-year-old Brycson in Allen County’s first “virtual adoption” on Tuesday.
He went through the adoption hearing during a Zoom teleconferencing meeting online instead of sitting in a courtroom, but he understood the result just the same.
“On the day of the adoption, he sat in the driveway and shouted out to people he was adopted,” Stephanie Batchelder said. “He’d tell anyone who looked at him: ‘I’m adopted! It’s my adoption day!’”
Through foster care
Andrew Batchelder, 38, and Stephanie Batchelder, 35, started looking into adopting a child privately a few years ago. On a whim, Stephanie says, they decided to look into becoming foster parents. Brycson was their first placement.
“We knew reunification was the main goal, so we were going with the flow,” Stephanie Batchelder said. “One permanent custody was granted to the state, we had asked about what the adoption procedure would be.”
Allen County had 44 children in Children Services’ custody on Friday, said Ericka Boddie, the foster care and adoption supervisor for the agency. There’s always a need for more homes, with 36 homes registered. May marks National Foster Care Month.
“It sounds cliche, but it literally warms my heart,” Boddie said. “It’s why I get up every day, when our work leads to permanency and a ‘forever home’ for a child.”
In February, the Batchelders learned when their date would happen in late April. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic led most non-essential services to shut down.
Technology came to the rescue.
“Everyone involved in the adoption who had the right to contest it had consented,” said Allen County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Glenn Derryberry. “We decided that rather than kick this down the road, we could get this child to his ‘forever family,’ which I guess is the term they like to use. We decided to go ahead.”
Working in the courts
Derryberry’s courtroom continued to work throughout the stay-at-home orders, with the exception of contested hearings.
Instead of face-to-face meetings, many hearings moved online. Jason Sadler, the technology coordinator for the courts, said he had to “improvise” a lot. Judge Derryberry’s laptop on the bench already had a webcam on it, but others needed some guidance.
The court already had an internal system to communicate virtually with the new Juvenile Detention Center on Cole Street. That’s only two-way communication, though, so they had to invest in Zoom to bring in more parties, Sadler said. The software includes the ability to move people into breakout rooms so attorneys and parties can communicate privately, outside the hearing of others.
Allen County received a $7,527 grant from the Ohio Supreme Court for emergency technology, mostly to cover the costs of a secure Zoom account and laptop computers to keep the court’s docket moving, said Berlin Carroll, the juvenile court administrator. The technology was ready for Brycson’s big day.
“It was definitely a neat experience,” Sadler said. “I’m glad to be a part of it. We did a lot of test calls with the family, with the attorney, with the family and the attorney. … Then the day of the adoption, everyone joined in.”
People were reminded these were still private court hearings. Occasionally someone working with the court had to move to a different location, away from family or friends.
Bringing a family together
Adoptions can be a happy day for families and court officials alike, especially for Derryberry, who handles both juvenile court and probate cases.
“This case started as a dependency neglect case in the juvenile court,” Derryberry said. “We hear all the bad things that happened to these poor kids when it’s in juvenile court, and they end up in the permanent custody of the Children Services board, when the parental rights are terminated. The thing about adoptions is they go to probate court to file for adoption, and you get to see thee happy ending too.”
Brycson has been in the Batchelders’ home for the past 19 months. In that time, he became a big brother to the couple’s natural child, Rhys, who is now 18 months old. He enjoys playing with the toddler, Stephanie Batchelder said.
“People always tell me they couldn’t do my job,” Children Services’ Boddie said. “I say I couldn’t be a foster care or adoptive parent. It takes so much dedication and love, which can’t be measured. It’s invaluable. We’re so appreciative of every foster parent and what they do.”
The time staying at home has been great for the family. Stephanie Batchelder can work from home in her job at Rhodes State College as the director of the testing center and accommodative services. Andrew, who works at Applebees, can also work from home. They’ve all handled it well, she said.
While Tuesday’s hearing made it official, Brycson was already a member of the family.
“His personality in general is very loving and accepting,” Stephanie Batchelder said. “We never put pressure on him to call us anything other than what he wanted, but he made the choice to call us ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ pretty much the day he moved in here.”