The last time Annette and Mark Carbaugh met with the media outside an Allen County courtroom, it was to discuss a criminal case that just concluded inside.
In that case, the two were serving as foster parents for the teenage sons of Aung Win, a 43-year-old Burmese man beaten to death in April 2011 by a neighbor.
The boys’ mother died in a refugee camp in Thailand before the family came to the U.S., leaving them orphaned after their father’s homicide.
But late Friday morning, the Carbaugh family officially grew by two, as the boys, now 17 and 16, became Daniel Wayne Carbaugh and Tuwah David Carbaugh.
Their adoption was two of nearly 30 Friday in the Family Relations Division of the Allen Superior Court, part of the National Adoption Day celebration.
Judge Charles Pratt, who handles children in need of services cases as well as the termination of parental rights, clearly enjoys presiding over adoption hearings, which are full of smiles and tears of joy.
The event focuses on children in foster care, who often are slow to be adopted.
These kids are being blessed with a new opportunity, Pratt said, a new life. We’re giving them a forever family.
When he was asked if he consented to the adoption, the newly named Daniel Wayne Carbaugh could not suppress a smile.
Yes, he said, nodding and smiling.
Outside the courtroom, Annette Carbaugh embraced the boys, as well as one of their older sisters, Ei Mer. The sisters, while all adults, are considered Carbaugh daughters as well, Annette Carbaugh said.
This is so happy, Annette Carbaugh said, beaming.
It feels amazing, said Daniel Wayne Carbaugh, a junior at Carroll High School.
In the country for more than four years, the teen is now looking forward to obtaining U.S. citizenship.
Annette Carbaugh encourages others to get involved in caring for foster children. Her husband, Mark, agreed but said, even if people cannot do that, they could still make a difference by building relationships with children in need through other organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Earlier Friday morning, 11-year-old Ali Alkhuzaie sat next to Donna Ray. The pair wore gray T-shirts with Team Ali printed on the front and the adoption date on the back.
When Pratt declared the boy officially Ray’s son, he grinned.
Yes, Ali said, giving Ray a high-five.
Ali and his 13-year-old adopted sister, a biological cousin, Breonna Alkhuzaie, have been living with Ray as a family for a while.
When asked whether the adoption made Friday a good day, he smiled.
You could say that, he said.
Ray said the adoption brings normalcy to their lives – ending the court hearings and procedure, bringing an end to the need to get permission.
It brings an ability to just live life, she said.
This was the sixth year for the event in Pratt’s courtroom.
He hopes it will continue to show the community that the adoption process is not onerous and that there are local children who need permanent families.
We don’t want to see kids languish, Pratt said. Adoption gives that finality.
Pratt said there is a myth that foster kids are damaged goods, but he said that is not true.
Every family has its challenges, he said. What they need most is stability and the confidence of knowing they are loved.
Adoption, a permanent placement, can provide what the children need to overcome the obstacles in their lives.
Friday’s event was unique because of a state Supreme Court order allowing cameras, as well as video- and audio-recording devices, to capture the entire hearings with the families’ consent in three counties, one of which was Allen.
Indiana largely bans cameras and recording devices from courtrooms, and family relations cases are closed to the public.
The cameras during the proceedings Friday provided a window to the process for the community, as well as keepsakes of the events for the family, Pratt said.