She has a new family for the holidays!
A daycare owner and mom of five adopted one of her students in a special holiday-themed ceremony, Good Morning America (GMA) reports.
Shyla Sheppard just turned turned eight on October 29th and got a new family for her birthday. After entering the foster care system she met her mom, Angie Sheppard, when she began attending Sheppard's daycare center two years prior.
Angie said one day, Shyla came into the center and asked her to be her mom. Two years later, when she was finally available for adoption, Sheppard, a mom of five, made sure to ask Shyla if she still wanted to join her family.
The Duval County Courthouse recently hosted the "Home for Halloween" adoption ceremony in Jacksonville, Florida. The event celebrated 15 children in the state who were recently adopted into their new homes. Dressed in costumes, the children were finally legally adopted by their forever families.
"When she came to daycare again, I said, 'Do you still want me to be your mom,' and she said, 'Yes,' and we started the process. To know that she's in a forever home now, I'm so happy and satisfied," Sheppard said.
The second-grader came to the ceremony excited, dressed in costume as a bailiff, making sure to bang the gavel at the end of each adoption.
"She had me in tears," Sheppard said.
Shyla was adopted alongside several other children. Jenn Petion, president and CEO of Family Support Services of North Florida, said ceremonies like "Home for Halloween" are needed to create fun celebrations and help newly adopted children move forward with the process, especially around the holidays.
"The holidays can be a particularly challenging time as they remember the family that they didn't have and the pain of not being able to be in a safe and loving home. So to have a finalization event that's tied to a holiday really starts to change those memories and allows them to symbolize the start of forever, the start of something new, and that they really can have that wonderful happy ending," said Petion.
The ceremony was the first in-person group event for adoption finalization since the pandemic last year. It also marked the beginning of National Adoption Awareness Month, recognized annually every November. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 400,000 children nationwide are in foster care. Petion said her organization personally saw an influx of children during the pandemic, helping nearly 200 more children on average than they were used to.
"We need families of all different types from diverse backgrounds and different stages of life to meet the needs of diverse kids in our system. Whether that is a temporary parent in foster parenting, or whether that's a forever home through adoption, we need a wide variety of families to match the special needs and abilities of our kids," Petion said.
Sheppard said while she never envisioned herself adopting, she's thrilled she gained Shyla as a daughter.
"She is the life of the house now. Everybody just fell head over heels in love with her," Sheppard said.
She also encourages others considering adoption or becoming fostering parents to just do it. "Don't be afraid. Take the leap," she said.
Congratulations, Sheppard family! Because of you, we can.
Photo Courtesy of Family Support Services of North Florida