HENNEPIN COUNTY, Minn. — Jenny and Cullen Hall were given just a week’s notice that they would be taking in two foster children — 1-month-old twins. But if anybody could take that in stride, it’s the Halls, who have cared for 17 foster children over the past four years.
“Babies don’t scare me,” said Jenny, a professional midwife. Cullen is an electrical engineer, but babies don’t seem to scare him, either.
Just over a year later, the twins are still living at their home in Chaska. The couple officially adopted the babies during Hennepin County’s annual National Adoption Day celebration.
Titus and Charlotte, now 15 months old, became the siblings of Nehemiah, 7, a boy the Halls adopted in 2018, and Eleanor, 8, the Halls’ biological daughter.
Every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the county’s Juvenile Justice Center is filled with loud, happy chaos as parents and children wait to file into courtrooms, one family at a time, to make their bonds official. This year, 14 families adopted 22 kids ranging in age from 1 to 16. Some, like the Halls, adopted multiple siblings. All were previously in foster care.
The county has held the adoption event for the past two decades, both to celebrate National Adoption Month and to raise awareness of the many other children waiting to be adopted — currently 905 kids statewide. The Department of Human Services makes every effort to reunite biological families or place children with relatives. When that’s not possible, they look for adoptive parents.
“We are always recruiting for people willing to adopt older kids,” said Melissa Sherlock, the county’s program manager for foster care and adoption. Teenagers are harder to place, as are children of color and children with special needs, she said. They make every effort to keep siblings together.
Adoption was once surrounded with secrecy, Sherlock said. Nowadays, the procedure is conducted as openly and frankly as possible. County officials try to keep kids in touch with their biological parents. The children are told about their pasts, even though most have endured abuse, neglect or other trauma. “We try to deliver it in the kindest method possible,” Sherlock said. If they’re not told, they can grow up feeling like something’s not right, even if they were too young to remember their lives before adoption.
The Halls began planning to adopt even before they were married.
“I just knew I wanted some of my family to be adopted,” Jenny said. “Blood doesn’t mean family to me.”
When they had an opportunity to become foster parents, they were happy to do that, too. Since 2015, they’ve taken children ranging in age from the 1-year-old twins to an 18-year-old young woman who was pregnant.
On Saturday, about 40 relatives and friends joined the Halls in the courtroom to witness the proceedings. Some of them were also adoptive parents, including Sara Spears of Brooklyn Park, a second cousin of Titus and Charlotte and adoptive mother of the babies’ half-brothers, who are 2 and 4.
“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” said Judge Shereen Askalani, who presided from a bench with a shelf lined with colorful stuffed animals.
“I’m assuming by this great showing that your family and friends get along with the children,” Askalani said. She went through the requisite questions and answers, including asking the parents whether they would provide the children “with love, care, security, a home, all the necessities of life and the best education possible.” The Halls said they would. Then Askalani invited the children in the Hall family to come forward and pick out a stuffed animal.
Previously quiet Nehemiah wasted no time. He hastened forward, grabbed an orange stuffed moose, went back and handed it to his baby sister.
“We already have one of these,” Jenny said, laughing.
But that’s exactly why Nehemiah had picked it. Now, along with twin babies, the family would also have twin orange moose.
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