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Couple Find a Happy Ending in Their Long Quest for Family

Courts: In Monterey Park, more than 550 children are adopted in a program that shortens the process.

July 29, 2001|NOAKI SCHWARTZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The boy had no idea what all the fuss was about as he pawed at his rising red balloon like a kitten. Even when the judge on Saturday announced that his official last name was to be Graham, all 4-year-old Ronald did was whisper to his new adoptive mother that there were too many people in the courtroom and it was nap time.

Eventually, Ronald and his 3-year-old brother, Evan, will understand that this was the seminal moment of their lives.

Kimiko Graham will one day tell her adopted sons how she endured eight miscarriages. How she and her husband changed the entire house, even nailing the fireplace grating shut, to comply with Los Angeles County Children and Family Services' regulations. And how she almost had her heart broken when the boys' biological mother wanted them back.

The story, just one of many from the more than 550 children who got new families on Adoption Saturday in Monterey Park, is not unusual, according to Graham's attorney, Steve Meiers. Some families wait up to 10 years to finalize an adoption, "which for the children is their entire childhood," he said.

Meiers was instrumental in starting a program in 1998 to shorten the adoption procedure to months instead of years. It all culminates three times a year on Adoption Saturdays, when hundreds of children and their soon-to-be families are shuttled through the court system in a single morning.

So far, 4,300 children have been adopted through the collaborative efforts of the county Department of Children and Family Services, the Los Angeles Juvenile Court system, and a number of large Los Angeles law firms.

For Kimiko and Anthony Graham, Saturday was a day they weren't always sure would come. When the judge asked if they were ready, Anthony quipped: "We've been ready for a long time."

After giving up on having a biological child together, the couple decided to become foster parents with the intention of adopting. They heard about Ronald, who had trouble getting placed because he has asthma and a heart murmur.

"People want perfect kids," Kimiko Graham shrugged. "I've had asthma my whole life and my grandmother has a murmur."

Shortly after they took Ronald in, they got a frantic message from county officials saying the couple had the weekend to decide if they would also take his little brother Evan, who is autistic. Although the brothers had never met, it was either both boys or neither, officials said.

The couple agreed to take the kids, and the first few months were tough. Ronald and Evan hated each other and Kimiko Graham was constantly tired. Everyone assumed it was just adjusting to having two children, but she soon discovered she was pregnant. This time the pregnancy held and, after years of being childless, the Grahams were suddenly a family of five.

"It came rather quickly, but we love it," Kimiko said.

Eighteen months later, they were waiting before family court Judge Michael Nash at the Edmund D. Edelman Children's Court to make it official. The parents eagerly signed in beside a bowl of candy, while the boys' eyes grew big at the thought of sweets before 10 a.m. After it was all over and the tissues were passed out, the couple left the courtroom beaming.

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