Just about everything shut down because of the coronavirus, including LA County courts, and for many families that put adoption plans on hold. The playbook had to be re-written to finalize adoptions during the pandemic.
One such child caught in the middle of it is 2 1/2-year-old Angel, who has a smile that would melt anyone’s heart.
"It felt right from the second I saw him, whether I got to parent him forever or whether I got him for 6 months, it was the way I was meant to become a mom," Mary Beth Larue said.
As part of LA County’s foster to adopt program, Matthew Aporta and Larue started fostering Angel when he was 6 days old, but it wasn’t until numerous court appearances, delays, and more than two years had passed, that Angel’s biological parents’ rights were terminated.
"You have this responsibility and natural calling to be a father figure and from day one that was there with Angel," Aporta said.
"In March of 2020 and we were told it would be about eight weeks after that when we could adopt and then COVID happened."
COVID-19 forced the closure of most of the court system, putting all adoptions on hold.
Local news from across Southern California
"When we heard it might not be until February 2021, I was pretty devastated," Larue said.
"At that point it had already been so long and in my eyes he was already adopted," Aporta said.
Adoptions are usually formalized with fanfare and extended family. Case law dating back to the 1800s says adoptions must be finalized in person before a judge.
But the presiding judge of the LA County juvenile court felt strongly changes needed to be made during the pandemic for the adoptive parents and especially for the children.
"The kids need this finality and the kids recognize this is not getting done," said Victor Greenberg, presiding judge.
Greenberg, along with the judicial counsel, the alliance for children's rights and the public counsel did something that’s never been done: they rewrote the adoption playbook, created new electronic files, and allowed volunteer judges to finalize uncontested adoptions from a computer, wherever and whenever they have time.
"Everybody was committed to making something work for these kids," Greenberg said.
One of those kids was Angel, whose finalized adoption process involved a notary at a UPS store.
"We stood there and signed adoption documents and I’m a nostalgic human so I was trying to create this moment. I’m like reading it out loud to Matt as we’re standing in the UPS store and they’re trying to get us out of there because you can only have two people in there!” Larue said.
Now that Angel, his father Matthew, his mother, Mary Beth, and their dog Rosie are officially a family, she says it’s brought peace to a chaotic year.