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Happy beginning for Lebanon 9-year-old on National Adoption Day

Waterford — Nine-year-old Nashir Paulhus had one request after his adoption was made official Friday in the Juvenile Matters Court here.

He asked Judge John C. Driscoll if he could bang the judge's gavel. With Driscoll's permission, he sat on the bench and did just that, eliciting a round of applause from his adoptive family, social workers, court staff and friends.

Nas, as he is called, is one of 70 Connecticut children adopted on National Adoption Day.

Looking spiffy in a suit and tie, and carrying balloons and a gift bag brimming with stuffed animals, the fourth-grader smiled nonstop.

"They give me everything," he said of his adoptive parents, Kerri Manseau and Jeremy Paulhus of Lebanon. "They give me happiness, and I'm glad."

The adoptive parents each offered their surnames to Nas, and he chose Paulhus. The judge approved the name change during a ceremony that he joked he was keeping short because he knew Nas was anxious to get back to school. 

"The court orders that the adoption be approved," Driscoll said, making it official.

Nas' case is ideal, under the circumstances, from the Department of Children and Families' "kinship" policy of placing children with relatives or friends whenever possible. His biological mother, from whose custody he was removed two years ago, is a friend of his adoptive parents.

Manseau manages a commercial property, and said she met Nas' mother when the mother worked for one of the tenants. They became friends, and when the DCF removed Nas from his mother's home, she reached out to Manseau to ask if she could take him.

Manseau, 52, who said she has been an unofficial foster mother to many kids over the years, never imagined she would continue to raise children at her age.  

"She came home and said, 'We're getting a kid,'" Paulhus said. "I said OK. I went along for the ride, and it was the best ride."

Initially, the plan was for Nas to return to his mother's home, and he called his foster parents by their first names. When it became clear his mother, who also has a medically fragile child, would not be able to meet the requirements for reunification, Nas gained a second mother, Manseau said. He sees his first mom regularly.

"The more family figures you can have in your life, the better," Manseau said.

She and Paulhus have a houseful of children, which also includes a 5-year-old foster child, Gerricho, whom they hope to adopt, 12-year-old Kylyn, 17-year-old Emma, and granddaughter Mercedez. The Thanksgiving table will be crowded next week, since there's also a 21-year-old daughter, Haley, and two married, adult sons.

According to DCF, 532 adoptions were completed in fiscal year 2019, about 30 percent of them comprising adoptions by relatives. Another 340 children in state care achieved permanent homes through subsidized guardianships.

Over the last several years, the department has expanded the use of kinship families — those that are either related to the child or otherwise know the child, such as a coach, teacher, neighbor or friend of the family. The use of these kinship families has more than doubled since 2011 and now there are roughly as many children in a kinship home as in a traditional, nonrelative foster home.

"If we have to remove a child from home, we reduce the trauma that results if we can have the child live with someone they already know and love," Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes said. "Those same wonderful kinship families can provide the permanency every child needs through adoption, and we need to highlight those opportunities."

According to the DCF, 4,252 children were in foster care in Connecticut as of Nov. 1, 2019, which is a reduction of more than 9 percent compared to January 2011. About half of those are expected to return to their families.

For information on fostering or adopting children in Connecticut, call 888-KID-HERO or visit www.ctfosteradopt.com.

k.florin@theday.com

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