You heard it here first: Three-year-old Jimmy O’Connor does not have horns growing out of his head.
Yes, he was a shaken baby. Yes, he was a foster child. And yes, he was bounced around to several foster homes, and even had an adoption fall through.
But this precocious, brown-eyed preschooler is the pride and joy of Jim and Sandy O’Connor, and on Saturday he officially becomes their son.
The Chandler couple will join 118 other families in publicly adopting 144 children at the Maricopa County Juvenile Court Durango Facility in Phoenix during the sixth annual National Adoption Day celebration.
This event gives the public a peek at what usually is a closed-door process, while dispelling myths about foster children. It has inspired some families to take the plunge themselves.
"It breaks down that barrier that foster kids are different, ugly, dumb or tainted," said attorney Kathryn Pidgeon, who helps organize the event. "When you see these little faces, and then you see the love and the emotion. I think that’s really what many of these families need to have the courage to go forward."
As with most couples, the O’Connors entered into adoption with some trepidation. State child welfare officials told them about Jimmy in February, within weeks of their becoming certified to adopt. They heard a litany of problems and prepared for the worst.
"When you get there you think, ‘OK, what kind of monster are they going to give us?’ Then, they show us this cute little kid," Jim O’Connor said.
A few weeks later, the child — and reality — set in. Over the past eight months, through temper tantrums and potty training, Jimmy has made tremendous strides and is developmentally on track with his peers.
He loves books and Spider-Man, eats just about anything and gets invited to birthday parties.
"He’s a really neat kid," O’Connor said.
If all goes well, the family may be back next year with a new daughter.
Nearly 1,800 Arizona children were available legally for adoption as of March 31, according to the state Department of Economic Security, which oversees foster care and adoption. About 70 percent will be adopted by relatives or foster parents.
Kevin and Debbie Smith will be adopting four children on Saturday, three siblings from Russia and 21-month-old Jessica from China. Actually, the Russian children are being readopted so they can have U.S. birth certificates.
Though the Smiths already had three biological children, and had long ago planned to adopt a girl from China, they only intended to host the Russian siblings during a 10-day stay two years ago.
"But when they got off the airplane, it was such an emotionally overwhelming thing to look at these gorgeous kids and think, ‘They have no one.’ " Debbie Smith said. "I just knew in my heart we were the right family for them."
The three biological kids agreed to the adoption, but at the beginning combining the two sets of bonded siblings "felt a little like us versus them," Smith said.
Eventually her youngest boy, then 6, "kind of crossed party lines" to play with the youngest Russian sibling, then 11, and within months the barriers had broken down.
"Pretty soon, they’re all playing Nintendo," she said. "They all seem to speak Nintendo."
National Adoption Day
When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Maricopa County Juvenile Court Durango Facility , 3131 W. Durango St.
For information: Call the state Department of Economic Security, (602) 255-5437 or (877) 543-7633, or visit www.de.state. az.us/dcyf/adoption