Six LI children had their adoptions finalized at a joyful ceremony at the Riverhead aquarium Friday. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland reports. Credit: Staff

A trip to the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead is a routine backdrop for making family memories.

But for six foster children, a visit to the aquarium on Friday marked a life-changing new beginning as each got new parents, siblings and extended families. Their adoptions were finalized by Suffolk County judges for National Adoption Day, which is Nov. 18.

Friday’s ceremony marked a departure from Family Court’s usual business, as a room at the aquarium was transformed into a makeshift courtroom where documents were signed and happy tears flowed.

“Our court often deals with difficult matters, contentious matters, but adoption day is always one of the happiest days of the year for us,” said Suffolk District Administrative Judge Andrew Crecca. “There’s nothing quite like seeing smiling faces on this memorable day.”

Clearing the legal hurdle felt more like a formality for Lisa-Kay Smith, 38, who said 3-year-old Elia had felt like her daughter since she began fostering her in June 2022. “From the moment I saw her, I knew that she was going to be my forever,” Smith said.

The Lindenhurst resident said she’d always wanted to adopt — and that the grueling process that involved home studies, interviews and “a lot of paperwork” — was all worth it.

“I was in a position to give a child a stable home,” Smith said. “For me, it means permanence. She can finally have a permanent place, somewhere to call home. She knows that she always has me, and I’ll always be here for her.”

Elia might not yet grasp the importance of Friday’s ceremony, or why the room erupted in applause for her after Judge Frank Tantone made her adoption official. Dressed in light pink from head to toe and her face painted in pastels, she clutched a teddy bear, beaming next to her new mom.

About 92 children are in foster care in Suffolk County, according to court officials. This year, Suffolk County Family Court is on track to finalize 150 adoptions, 55 of which are children from foster care. 

At the end of September, 13,459 children were in foster care statewide, according to a third-quarter report by the Office of Child and Family Services. The report found that 38% of those children are  5 and younger.

Supervising Family Court Judge Caren Loguercio said adoption day was her favorite day of the year.

As judges, she said, foster care and adoption proceedings do more than just pair children with adults who provide food, clothing and shelter. They're about having "someone at their sporting events, school concerts, help them with homework, push them on the swing set, graduations, and other life events we take for granted,” Loguercio said.

After the ceremony, dozens of adoptive families in attendance enjoyed breakfast, face painting, a children’s book signing and a day at the aquarium.

Dennis Callahan of Centerport brought his adopted children to the event to support the new families.

“It’s important for kids to understand that adoption means they’re special,” Callahan said. “We want them to know that adoption means you were chosen, and that we love you.”

Callahan, 60, and his husband, Pablo Guerrero, began fostering shortly after they wed in 2016. Their family has grown to include Patrick, 9; Marithza, 4; and Sofia, 3, biological siblings adopted when they were between 5 days and 6 years old.

A retired teacher, Callahan said having children had changed his life. “I didn’t know how to hold a baby, change a baby, do hair … Thank God for YouTube,” he joked. “I didn’t understand that I could love a baby that wasn’t genetically ‘mine,’ but it was instantaneous.”

A trip to the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead is a routine backdrop for making family memories.

But for six foster children, a visit to the aquarium on Friday marked a life-changing new beginning as each got new parents, siblings and extended families. Their adoptions were finalized by Suffolk County judges for National Adoption Day, which is Nov. 18.

Friday’s ceremony marked a departure from Family Court’s usual business, as a room at the aquarium was transformed into a makeshift courtroom where documents were signed and happy tears flowed.

“Our court often deals with difficult matters, contentious matters, but adoption day is always one of the happiest days of the year for us,” said Suffolk District Administrative Judge Andrew Crecca. “There’s nothing quite like seeing smiling faces on this memorable day.”

Clearing the legal hurdle felt more like a formality for Lisa-Kay Smith, 38, who said 3-year-old Elia had felt like her daughter since she began fostering her in June 2022. “From the moment I saw her, I knew that she was going to be my forever,” Smith said.

The Lindenhurst resident said she’d always wanted to adopt — and that the grueling process that involved home studies, interviews and “a lot of paperwork” — was all worth it.

“I was in a position to give a child a stable home,” Smith said. “For me, it means permanence. She can finally have a permanent place, somewhere to call home. She knows that she always has me, and I’ll always be here for her.”

Elia might not yet grasp the importance of Friday’s ceremony, or why the room erupted in applause for her after Judge Frank Tantone made her adoption official. Dressed in light pink from head to toe and her face painted in pastels, she clutched a teddy bear, beaming next to her new mom.

From foster care to family

About 92 children are in foster care in Suffolk County, according to court officials. This year, Suffolk County Family Court is on track to finalize 150 adoptions, 55 of which are children from foster care. 

At the end of September, 13,459 children were in foster care statewide, according to a third-quarter report by the Office of Child and Family Services. The report found that 38% of those children are  5 and younger.

Supervising Family Court Judge Caren Loguercio said adoption day was her favorite day of the year.

As judges, she said, foster care and adoption proceedings do more than just pair children with adults who provide food, clothing and shelter. They're about having "someone at their sporting events, school concerts, help them with homework, push them on the swing set, graduations, and other life events we take for granted,” Loguercio said.

After the ceremony, dozens of adoptive families in attendance enjoyed breakfast, face painting, a children’s book signing and a day at the aquarium.

Dennis Callahan of Centerport brought his adopted children to the event to support the new families.

“It’s important for kids to understand that adoption means they’re special,” Callahan said. “We want them to know that adoption means you were chosen, and that we love you.”

Callahan, 60, and his husband, Pablo Guerrero, began fostering shortly after they wed in 2016. Their family has grown to include Patrick, 9; Marithza, 4; and Sofia, 3, biological siblings adopted when they were between 5 days and 6 years old.

A retired teacher, Callahan said having children had changed his life. “I didn’t know how to hold a baby, change a baby, do hair … Thank God for YouTube,” he joked. “I didn’t understand that I could love a baby that wasn’t genetically ‘mine,’ but it was instantaneous.”

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

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