After more than three years of feeding, clothing, caring for and loving two little girls they raised as if they were their own, Marion parents Joe and Lesli Beery could finally breathe a sigh of relief as the uncertainty was lifted from their backs on March 12 as Maddison and Brooklyn were legally declared their daughters.
The Beerys probably know better than most that milestones like this don’t just happen overnight.
Growing up, both of their families had foster children and Joe was adopted at the age of five.
Joe and Lesli have been licensed foster parents since 2003 and have provided foster care for 27 children since then, in addition to raising their two sons, 9-year-old Christopher and 6-year-old Harrison.
On top of that, the Beerys recently adopted 5-year-old Maddison and 4-year-old Brooklyn on March 12 after navigating a maze of red tape and legal paperwork to claim them as their own and give them their last name.
The story of the Beerys’ adoption began when Lesli Beery picked up the phone at 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 18, 2010 and a voice asked her if she and Joe could take two girls into their care who were being kept at the Dickinson County sheriff’s office.
Being familiar with fostering guidelines, the Berrys knew that officials usually look first within the county children in need are from and then proceed to search in the surrounding county if no suitable match can be found.
“We didn’t want the girls to have to stay the night in the police station,” Lesli Beery said. “One hour later, they were brought to our doorstep in their jammies, Maddison hugged Joe and we just lost our hearts.”
Prior to the girls’ arrival at the Beerys’, their biological parents had been arrested and the police had searched their house for useful items.
However, they could find nothing of use to bring along with the girls, Lesli said, not even a can of formula for Brooklyn, who was only about 11 months old at the time.
Lesli and Joe clothed Maddison and Brooklyn in clean pajamas, fed them, and put to them to bed.
Initially they agreed to keep the girls for a standard 72 hours of police protective custody until a custody decision could be determined in court.
“The girls’ grandmother, Barbara Cairns, visited right away,” Lesli said. “The second time we met, she asked us to adopt them because she had never seen them so happy or healthy.”
After the court date, the girls lived with the Beerys until May of 2011 when they were turned over to their Grandma Cairns.
Cairns turned over guardianship in June, before which the Beerys kept in contact and saw the girls every other weekend.
“Barbara asked us to take them back that October when she found out she had a kidney disease,” Lesli said. “The Department for Children and Families requested that we file a petition for guardianship of the girls.”
However, the biological parents rejected the petition because their parental rights had never been officially terminated and they retained some say over what happened to the girls.
“Grandma Cairns then refused medical treatment until a suitable place could be found for Maddison and Brooklyn,” Lesli said.
Lesli and Joe contact the foster care service they were registered with because they didn’t want the girls to watch their Grandma get sick. The Beerys got an attorney for the case who determined that the girls were definitely in need of foster parents.
Between May and October of 2011, the girls never left the Beerys care.
In August of 2012, the biological parents’ parental rights were terminated and the Beerys officially started the adoption process after Grandma Cairns passed away.
During a home study, caseworkers determined the Beerys to be finically and ethically capable to care for the girls. However, workers also had to double check to make sure there were no other familial options before they could allow the adoption progress further.
“That’s when the girls’ grandfather came out of the woodworks and said that he wanted them,” Lesli said. “The girls had never met him and he had had no prior contact with them. But by law, he had to go through the home study too.”
Lesli and Joe said that they tried not to make a big deal about the uncertainty of the girls’ situation while going through the ambiguity of the situation. They simply told the girls, “This is life.”
In October, all the caseworkers involved in the girls’ case met to review each home study and choose who they thought would provide the best environment for Maddison and Brooklyn.
“After Lesli and I were chosen, a case worker brought two big tubs of paperwork, one for each girl, for us to read through,” Joe said. “We had pretty much been raising them but we had to read every court document, all the medical history, and a lot of the papers were forms we had filled out.”
Upon agreeing to and receiving guardianship, the Beerys then went into negotiations with the Department for Children and Families to receive help with things like daycare and medical assistance for the girls.
A case worker visited their home once a month while the Beerys and a lawyer petitioned the state for consent to adopt the girls.
“We signed the petition on Jan. 31, which was also Brooklyn’s fourth birthday,” Lesli said. “She has never celebrated a birthday without us.”
The court date for the adoption was set and all that was left to do was wait.
“Brooklyn was too young to really know, but Maddison struggled with anxiety throughout the whole process because she understood that until she got our last name someone could take her away from us,” Lesli said. “I was nervous too. Joe was the calm one.”
Leading up to the adoption, the Beerys wanted to make sure that the girls could not be mistake the day for anything else.
“We bought new dresses and shoes for the girls,” Lesli said, “I know it’s corny but our clothes all matched in colors.”
During that time, she said that Maddison also randomly told people “I get to be adopted,” while passing them on the street.
“Our youngest son, Harrison, also showed Maddison how to write our last name; she’s been practicing,” Lesli said. “He and Christopher show the girls a lot of things they learn in school. They are all definitely siblings. They fight like siblings, they get along like siblings and some people say they look alike.”
On March 12, the day of the adoption, a number of friends, family, and people involved in the case joined the Beerys at the courthouse.
Their friend Jeremiah Lange took pictures of the event, Joe said, and the girls’ case worker brought them each teddy bears.
The courtroom was full and when the gavel came down marking finalization of the adoption, everyone started cheering.
“We have been caring for the girls for so long that it was like nothing had changed and everything had changed all at once,” Joe said. “We already felt like we were their parents.”
Family friends Lisa and Josh Wesner also gave the Beerys a plaque Lisa made to commemorate the date and display the growth of the Beery family.
“I was fine until Lisa handed me the plaque,” Lesli said. “I just cried.”
The girls spent 1,177 days in foster care, the majority of which was under the care of Joe and Lesli. The Beerys said they were thankful for all the great support they received from their family and friends during that time.
“Throughout it all, people were praying for us and sometimes they would drop off bags of clothes on our front steps,” Lesli said. “Family can be so many different things; biological, adopted, who you know or who you care about.”