A day after celebrating her second birthday, Kendra Lea Rooth got one of the most important gifts of all -- a forever family -- when her adoption was finalized in a Benton County courtroom.
The pig-tailed ball of energy wiggled free of her mom's arms Friday as Cameron Lea Rooth vowed to responsibly and financially provide for her daughter and provide a loving and stable home.
Asked by Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner if she understood that once he signed the decree of adoption, the toddler would become her child permanently, Cameron Rooth emphatically answered: "Absolutely!"
Kendra was one of eight foster children adopted Friday by seven families -- one family took in two sisters -- in a National Adoption Day ceremony at the Benton County Justice Center.
Some of the proceedings were done in private in a separate courtroom, but Rooth opted to keep her hearing public before loved ones and a few dozen spectators.
Benton-Franklin Superior Court has been celebrating National Adoption Day since 2006.
The national event was founded in 2000 by a coalition of child welfare organizations hoping to raise awareness of the thousands of foster children available for adoption.
Friday's ceremony took an emotional turn when twin sisters Jackie Hill and Judy Lopez shared their adoption story.
The women, who both work in the Benton County court system, said they did not know until age 9 that the couple who had been raising them since birth were foster parents. They were adopted just 21/2 weeks shy of their 10th birthday and said they were blessed that their parents agreed to take in twins instead of splitting them up.
Hill and Lopez cried as they talked about their father, who died in January, and their mother, and the sacrifices they made so the girls could have a good life.
As of late August, 466 foster kids in 20 Eastern Washington counties were waiting to be adopted, according to state Department of Social and Health Services statistics. That means the rights of their biological parents have been terminated by the courts or relinquished by the parents themselves, and the children now live in limbo hoping to find new homes and families.
And as of Oct. 31, there were 8,287 children living in foster care across the state, with 1,574 of them available for adoption.
Judge Spanner said it was a privilege to be part of an adoption celebration and thanked Rooth for allowing him to preside over the expansion of her family. Rooth was joined by her lawyer, Alan Tindell of Richland.
The Pasco woman said Kendra came into her life at just 3 days old.
Her parents' rights were terminated by the court some time ago, and Rooth said she always knew that if she had a chance to make Kendra a permanent part of her family, she would make it happen.
"She just knows this is her family. She doesn't know any different," Rooth said as the little girl with a bubbly personality ran around the courthouse lobby handing out adoption pamphlets and pencils she had grabbed from a nearby table.
Rooth and her then-husband first started taking in foster kids in 2006 when they didn't have any children. The couple continued working with the foster care system after moving to the Tri-Cities from Auburn and having a biological son. Harrison now is 4.
Rooth said she had another toddler who returned to his family a month ago so, with Kendra's adoption, she no longer has any foster children in her home. Once Kendra is at the appropriate age, Rooth plans to tell the girl about her adoption and her birth parents, who she says battled addiction but did the most selfless act they could have done by stepping out of their daughter's life.
Rooth said it was "a huge relief" to have the adoption finalized because she no longer needs to worry that Kendra might be taken by child welfare workers to live in another home.
"I'm a huge advocate for foster parenting, and I think a lot of people don't realize it's needed throughout this community," Rooth said.
People are needed to step in and take care of these children who are like any other kids, she said, but just need a good, safe home in which to live.