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A BLITZ OF ADOPTION PROCEEDINGS IN ERIE COUNTY FAMILY COURT LEADS TO PERMANENT HOMES FOR 40 CHILDREN --- BUT HUNDREDS OF FOSTER CHILDREN STILL WAIT ADOPTION

A blitz of adoption proceedings in Erie County Family Court leads to permanent homes for 40 children -- but hundreds of foster children still await adoption

Since he was 18 months old, Derek Lewis has languished in the foster care system.

One of five siblings, Derek, now 6, watched as his sisters and a brother received permanent homes.

Meanwhile, he was in and out of foster homes -- living temporarily with three families in the Schenectady area.

But all of that instability officially ended Saturday when his adoption by the Lewis family of North Buffalo was finalized.

Derek was one of a record 40 children, ages 1 to 16, to receive permanent homes during Erie County Family Court's special adoption proceedings in observation of National Adoption Day.

The court also was one of 18 organizations around the country to receive an adoption excellence award from Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

Derek has lived with Buffalo schoolteachers DiAnne and Michael Lewis and their two daughters for the past year.

"I'm happy to be in this family. You've always been my mommy and daddy. I'm not going anywhere," Derek said while hugging his mother.

His new parents went through the emotions -- from weeping to laughing -- as they completed a bevy of paperwork.

"We are glad the legal process is over," said Michael Lewis, 37. "We've already accepted him as part of the family. He completes our family -- I've always wanted a son."

The couple decided to adopt a son after DiAnne experienced difficult pregnancies with their daughters.

"We felt adoption was the sure way to go," said DiAnne Lewis, 34. "We knew once we took him into our home, we couldn't send him back."

This was the first time the county had participated in the national event -- along with 34 other sites, including 12 counties in New York. It strives to bring attention to 134,000 foster children across the country.

"We are celebrating the fact that these children have found permanent and loving homes," said Sharon S. Townsend, Family Court supervising judge. "The goal is to finalize these adoptions and to publicize for more families to be available to adopt children -- to offer their homes to these children." She added that there are 1,400 foster children in Erie County.

Saturday's marathon proceedings included international adoptions of children from as far away as Colombia.

Family Court judges were busy presiding over back-to-back adoptions. It was Judge Kevin M. Carter's first time conducting such proceedings, and he finalized four adoptions, including the Lewises'.

"This was special; it was beautiful," Carter said. "These adoption cases are cases made for angels."

The Lewis family members signed and confirmed documents before Carter. Their youngest daughter, Kirsten, 4, brought comic relief to the formal proceeding with outbursts about the family's dogs and pregnant guinea pig.

"The family is expanding," Carter joked.

Victoria, 6, said she's excited about her brother because he shares his toys, books and games.

"I help him with his homework," she said.

Derek, who is shy, said his sisters "are really nice." His parents said he keeps in contact with his biological siblings in Schenectady.

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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