The five children — three girls and two boys — sat at a long table below the judge's bench, each clutching a large stuffed bear. They rested at Sarah Davis' side, the girls in red and black dresses, the boys wearing vests and ties, as a beaming Judge Elizabeth Rice asked all the required questions.
"Do you believe these children are suitable for adoption?"
"Yes," Davis answered.
"Do you feel you are a fit and proper parent?"
"Absolutely, I am."
Davis, a 46-year-old single mother, has cared for her two daughters, Vanessa, 10, and Gracie, 9, since she adopted them both nine years ago. And for the past five of those nine years, she was a foster mother to three others: Ceinna, 9; Michael, 7; and Dominic, 5.
And now, on Friday morning, in a dim, quiet courtroom where more than a dozen other families sat and waited for their turn before the judge, Davis' family of three expanded to six.
"It is now formal, and it is now final," Judge Rice said. "These children now have their forever home."
The hearing was one of about a dozen adoption proceedings that took place Friday morning at George E. Edgecomb Courthouse as part of the Hillsborough National Adoption Day Celebration, a project of the child welfare and foster care group, Eckerd Community Alternatives.
In all, 22 kids gained new families, many of whom had cared for them as foster children. Outside the courtroom doors, a crowd of about 300 filled a lobby. Over the din of children's laughter and shouts of congratulations, new parents stopped to snap photos with their adopted sons and daughters.
"They come in as individuals, and they leave as families," said Lorita Shirley, Eckerd's executive director. Before the morning's adoptions began, she read some statistics. Among them: 104,000 foster children in the United States are awaiting permanent homes. That includes 750 in Florida and 225 in Tampa Bay counties.
For many families, the process is long and arduous. For Davis, it meant five years of paperwork, of legal wrangling and frustrating family court hearings, of homework and sibling rivalries and balancing of school schedules. Half a decade of waiting. But in a way, Davis had been waiting her whole life to be a mom.
"Just something in me said this is what you're supposed to do," said Davis, who has cared for about 20 to 25 kids over the years as a foster mother. "I've never felt bad about not having children, because I've always had plenty of children."
The other families knew what she meant.
Craig McKeehan first served as foster parent about 20 years ago. He saw the need then. And years later, it remained.
Earlier this year, he and Charlie Quiroz, 48, attended several "match" events with the goal of adopting.
At one, they met 17-year-old Nick Mullins, who had been a foster child most of his life. He was bright and had goals of going to college or joining the military.
"We got to thinking, what about the kids who go to college and come home for summer break and don't have anyone to come home to?" McKeehan said.
Through several meetings, they became Nick's mentors. Soon, they began the process of adoption. On Friday, it became official.
In two weeks, as he turns 18, Nick will spend Thanksgiving with McKeehan and Quiroz at their St. Petersburg home. He knows he always has a place to go now and someone who cares about him.
"There have been times that haven't been very easy," McKeehan said. "But we always made sure we loved him no matter what."