SAN ANGELO, TX — San Angelo and Tom Green County celebrated National Adoption Day at the Sugg room in the Stephens Library Friday. The annual event is a collective effort to raise awareness of the more than 113,000 children waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States. A coalition of national partners (the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Alliance for Children’s Rights and Children’s Action Network) founded National Adoption Day.
More importantly, the annual event highlights the yeoman’s work of a select few in this county who are tasked with mitigating child abuse. Child Protective Services is the enforcement arm, but after the intervention in the family, State law mandates a system that allows individuals to provide a caring, watchful eye on the children who are oftentimes traumatized by their own parents.
In Tom Green County, Judge Elizabeth Watkins, CPS case managers, her staff, and many local private practice attorneys work about 400 Child Protective Services cases per year. Judge Watkins’ court coordinator Mandy Archer helped organized Friday’s celebration.
The celebration is very appropriate, Archer stressed. “It is a huge thing for a child to know they’ll be wanted and in a safe home environment,” she said.
The event also raises awareness for local adoptions. All of the court cases involved are sealed so CPS gets very little press coverage and most citizens in the region do not know about the volume of children impacted by bad home environments.
Archer said at the celebration on Friday 14 families were adopted. What Archer counts as a family is a CPS case for a single child or one to four siblings where unification with the children’s original family isn’t possible.
A child effectively becomes a ward of the state, given a status of “Permanent Managed Conservatorship” when taken from a home and when there are no adoption alternatives. Finding adoptive parents therefore, is a big deal.
Ty Groat is a young attorney who has been practicing law in San Angelo for five years. After getting his law degree at St. Mary’s in San Antonio, his first boss, the late attorney James Kneisler, assigned him to represent children who were part of CPS cases.
“Family law was the farthest from what I wanted to get into when I passed the bar,” he said.
Since he began representing children impacted by CPS cases, however, his outlook changed.
“You have no idea what many of the kids are going through,” he said. He said his child representation is the most rewarding type of law he practices.”As the child’s attorney, you make sure the kid doesn’t get the short end of the stick,” he said.
Groat said despite the trauma some of these children are going through, after things settle down and the children are taken care of, he sees all of them as typical American kids. He represents children as young as two days old to 18 years old. Cases last from 1.5 years to 4 years long.
At today’s event, Groat was celebrating with three families he represented. One child was two years old, two girls aged 4 and 5 who are siblings, and two boys aged 4 and 5 who are also siblings. The siblings were adopted together.
Groat said the Texas Family Code requires the State to first attempt to reunite the children with their original parent or parents. If this is not possible, state agencies look for immediate and then extended families. The attorney representing the children is intricately involved in the process. The Children’s Advocacy Center of Greater West Texas helps facilitate finding adoptive parents, Groat said.
“Adoption is the culmination of my representation of the child,” Groat said. He said adoption is very much something to celebrate.
The Child Protection Court of the Concho Valley is managed by the Tom Green County government. Through memorandums of understanding, the court hears CPS cases in Brown, Coke, Concho, Irion, Runnels, Schleicher, and Sterling Counties, in addition to Tom Green County.