David and Diane Kramer were planning to adopt their 4-year-old grandson before he was even born.
And on Friday, little Anthony officially became a Kramer. He even had a special shirt for the occasion: “I stole their hearts. Now I stole their last name.”
He was one of 50 Central Florida children who were legally united with their “forever families” as part of National Adoption Day.
Designed to raise awareness of the more than 125,000 children in foster care nationwide, the event was established in 2000 by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, the Alliance for Children’s Rights and the Children’s Action Network.
The Kramers said they can rest easy at night knowing that Anthony can grow up in safe, secure and loving household. The Poinciana couple began caring for Anthony because his biological mother struggles with substance abuse.
The Kramer’s decision to adopt was easy, but the process has been anything but.
The legal proceedings have been the most challenging, said Diane Kramer, 59.
Then there’s the daycare and the shots and the gumption it takes to keep up with 4-year-old Anthony, a gregarious child who seems to know no stranger.
“He is very energetic. Good thing his poppa can still keep up with him,” she said.
Raising their grandson is, in some ways, was similar to raising their own two daughters. But for the most part, it’s a whole new ball game, said Diane, who’s worked for Disney World for more than 30 years.
She and her 65-year old husband are close to retirement, but expect to stay busy raising Anthony.
But they’re not complaining ,and said they get great joy from watching Anthony grow and learn.
“He’s like a little sponge,” she said.
More grandparents than ever are in the Kramer’s position.
The number of kids being raised by grandparents has doubled in the U.S. since 1970, and is up 7 percent in the past five years alone, according to Pew Research Center.
Much of the increase can be attributed to the opioid epidemic, according to Pew.
Federal law requires that states consider placing children with relatives in order to receive foster care and adoption assistance. And grandmothers and grandfathers often are a first choice for state and local caseworkers.
Still, 21 percent of grandparents caring for grandchildren live below the poverty line, according to Generations United. About 39 percent are over 60, and 26 percent have a disability.
Because the Kramers officially adopted their grandson, they receive a financial stipend from the state to help support him. Children who are adopted or who are in foster care in Florida are also eligible for free in-state college tuition.
It’s a long and arduous process, Diane said.
“Don’t give up. You’ve got to have patience.”