BELTON — Tears began to fall from Wonderetta Croon’s eyes as Judge Jack Jones of the 146th District Court said the four children — Aniya, 6; Daquon, 5; Zyion, 3; and Iris, 1 — were legally hers.

“They’ve been my children for a long time,” she said. Croon, who traveled from Austin to adopt her grandchildren, had been providing a stable home for the children for about a year and had been working for about five months to finalize the adoption process.

Croon’s Department of Family and Protective Services caseworker, Susan Mason, said the average wait time to finalize the adoption process was between three and six months.

She characterized Croon’s adoption as relatively hassle-free.

“She’s a very caring person,” Mason said. “She was interested in going forward with the adoption so she could get on with her life without DFPS.”

The Croons were one of 14 families participating in Bell County’s annual Adoption Day ceremony, which helped 27 children find permanent homes this year.

The event, held in Bell County every year since 2008, averages about 15 adoption cases per year, involving 23 to 25 children, according to information from the Bell County Bar Association, which sponsors the ceremony.

Denise Hyde, the attorney handling Croon’s application, helped the newly adopted children follow the yellow brick road past cardboard cutouts of Dorothy, Glenda the Good Witch, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman. She said the children already found a home and family and the ceremony was just “to make it official.”

Currently, about 6,500 children in state care are legally available for adoption, 63 percent of whom are not living with a prospective parent, according to figures from the Department of Family and Protective Services.

In Bell County alone, 91 children are in state care.

Julie Moody, Department of Family and Protective Services media specialist, said the annual Adoption Day ceremony helps draw attention to the “great need children in foster care have for safe loving families.”

“The most important thing is that children have stability and permanency,” Moody said. “I don’t think that we as a society want children to age out of foster care because there isn’t an interested parent.”

Almost 50 percent of the children in state care are between the ages of 10 and 17 years old. Moody said because many families have a desire to adopt infants, it is much more difficult to place older children with prospective families.

“I think a lot of people have this preconceived notion of adopting a baby,” Moody said. “But there are a lot more 10- to 17-year-olds than infants in the foster system.”

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