By Jo Mathis
Sam Weston Royle was born in a bathtub seven months ago to a teenager whose family didn’t even know she was pregnant.
But the 17-year-old did know one important thing: Through the state’s Safe Delivery Program (also called Safe Surrender), she knew she could easily, safely and anonymously leave her newborn with staff at a local hospital. No questions asked. No need for a court hearing. No red tape.
That’s what the young mother did the day after she gave birth.
And that’s how Brian and Julie Royle of Ann Arbor last week got to expand their family by one cherubic baby.
“We instantly fell in love with him and took him home that day,” said Julie Royle, minutes before the adoption took place last week at the Washtenaw County Courthouse.
National Adoption Day was celebrated around the country during the week of Thanksgiving.
Eight families welcomed their new members in brief hearings in courtrooms adorned with balloons and teddy bears.
“We usually deal with such sadness it’s nice to have at least one happy day in the courthouse,” said Washtenaw County Juvenile Court Referee/Deputy Probate Register Julia Owdziej, one of the day’s two officiates.
“Instead of taking families apart, we’re putting them together,” said Monica Hicks, Washtenaw County Trial Court adoption/guardianship caseworker, who coordinated the day.
Hicks said many people are unaware of Michigan’s Safe Delivery Program, which allows parents to safely and anonymously surrender their newborn child no more than 72 hours old to an employee who is inside and on duty at any hospital, fire department, police station, or by calling 9-1-1.
The program was started in 2000 as a way to eliminate abandoned babies, and releases the newborn for placement with an adoptive family.
“I want people to know that’s an option,” said Hicks, he said. “They don’t have to take part in the adoption process. They don’t have to take part in any hearings. They can have the baby in the hospital, and go home.”
Brian and Julie Royle, who have an older son, Max, 5, had been trying to adopt for about a year when they received the call about Sam last spring from their caseworker, Doug Gardner of LDS Family Services.
“We enjoy attending any of the Adoption Day celebrations held throughout the state,” said Gardner. “It’s a heart-warming, great celebration of the opportunities for families to welcome these children into their homes.”
Judge Carol Kuhnke congratulated each new family in her courtroom.
“I’m grateful to you for opening your lives to Suzanne, and know that she has a wonderful life ahead of her, and that the wait was worth it and you have the baby that was intended to be yours,” Kuhnke said to newly adopted parents and Alexandra Scott, holding their daughter.
In 2012, there were about 13,000 Michigan children and youths in foster care, with about 3,000 with a goal of adoption. The others hope to be reunited with their parents.
About 100 children are adopted each year in Washtenaw County. Catholic Social Services is the primary adoption agency here, and there are about 10 others. The agencies handle all the paperwork and parental visits, and the court becomes involved when they’re ready to petition for adoption. Adoptions are held throughout the year.
Kevin Newman of York Township said that he and his wife, Willow McCombs, started looking into adoption a couple of years ago. They got their foster parent licenses in case a good match was found, and they could move in right away.
“These guys moved in in March,” he said, motioning towards biological siblings, Tiana, 5, and Tyler, 8. “In a few minutes, they’ll be adopted. And they’ll be the newest Newmans on the block.”
He said the first three months were an adjustment period similar to having a newborn in the house, but things get better every day.
“I’m glad to be here,” he said.
Max and Amy McGonegal of Grass Lake adopted seven-month-old Cooper through Catholic Social Services. They were able to attend his birth in Louisiana, and Max in fact cut the umbilical cord.
“It was a tremendous experience,” he said. “We love the adoption process.”