HERNDON — Friday will be the day when Ryan and Kira Leitzel legally become parents to three children they've been fostering.
As far as the Herndon couple is concerned, that's just a formality.
The foster parents will participate in the seventh annual Northumberland County Adoption Day, at which they officially will become parents to Jayden, 3, who is diagnosed with non-verbal autism, and fraternal twins Kevin and Nevaeh, 22 months, who were born two months premature.
"They're already my kids. I've already decided that and accepted them as my own," Ryan Leitzel said. "Knowing it's finally official and over is going to be exciting."
The journey to get to the Northumberland County Courtroom where the Leitzels and 11 other families will celebrate their finalized adoptions has not been easy.
"It's not for the faint of heart, but you'll never regret it," Kira Leitzel said. "You have to be willing to fight for the child, and do what's best for them and put away what you want. It's not always easy, but you'll fall in love right away."
According to the most recent report from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently 415,129 children in American foster care. Of these children, 107,918 are waiting to be adopted. In just the past two years, the number of children waiting for a family has increased by about 6 percent while the number of adoptions out of foster care has decreased by 4 percent.
This year, Northumberland County will have 20 children adopted. In 2015, 20 children were adopted. In 2014, 30 children were adopted. In 2013, 10 children were adopted. In 2012, the number was 20. As of right now, 171 children are still in the county foster care system, many awaiting permanent homes.
Comparatively, as of this week, Snyder County has 26 children in foster care, Union County has 20 children with two about to be adopted and Montour County has three children. These three counties do not participate in National Adoption Day on Nov. 19 or have their own adoptions days, like Northumberland.
There's no saying just how long an individual adoption process is, but the county has 15 months to either reunify the parent with the child or file a petition of parental rights or for an extension, according to Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN) Legal Services Initiative (LSI) paralegal Sara McIntyre, who is contracted with Northumberland County to work with families to expedite permanency for children.
Ryan Leitzel said, he doesn't regret the court dates, the visitations and the hospital time.
"It's tough and a lot of stress," he said. "Taking care of the kids is the easy part. Knowing you're taking children out of a bad situation and who may have been less fortunate makes it all worth it."
The Leitzels, who have been married for 13 years, both once worked at Sunbury Motors. Kira Leitzel is now a full-time stay-at-home mother while Ryan still works at the car dealership in commercial sales. The couple decided nearly three years ago that they wanted to adopt instead of birthing children.
"To me, do I really want to bring another child into this world?" Kira Leitzel said. "It's not pretty out there. If I want a child in my life, why not adopt a child who could have been in the system forever?"
The Leitzels became licensed for fostering in January 2014 and got Jayden two days later when he was eight months old. The twins came in March 2015 when they were three months old.
Jayden came to the Leitzels as a malnourished child, weighing only 10 pounds at eight months old. He's still behind physically — about the size of his 2-year-old brother. He was diagnosed first as verbal autistic at 18 months old, but is now non-verbal. He can speak, but he chooses not to say anything other than "mom" and "no." He likely won't ever be a fully functional adult, his parents said.
"We knew something wasn't right, but we weren't sure if it was the lack of care as an infant," Kira Leitzel said. "We could sense something different."
His personality is happy and pleasant. He loves Mickey Mouse and problem solving, including fixing television remotes that his own parents can't figure out.
"He's a very happy child," Kira Leitzel said.
Kevin and Nevaeh were born two months premature. Two days after getting them, Kevin was taken to the hospital for a respiratory infection and he spent nine days in the hospital. Nevaeh had deep sores under her diaper from an infection.
"Both bounced back really fast," Kira Leitzel said.
Kevin is mellow while his sister is an entertainer. Nevaeh is also nurturing and has connected with Jayden; she often calms him down.
The Leitzel family also have two pets: KC, a 16-year-old lab mix, and Max, a 6-month-old German shepherd being trained to be Jayden's therapy dog.
Like the Leitzels, Derek and Alecia Van Ruler, of Sunbury, will finalize their adoptions Friday during the celebration.
"We are not able to have our own children," said Derek, 31, the pastor of Sunbury City Church that meets every Sunday morning at the Sunbury Chapter of the Greater Susquehanna Valley YMCA. "We heard about the huge need in our county and we felt it would be a way to show God's love to children in our area."
Derek and Alecia Van Ruler, 32, are adopting 6-year-old Donovan, a kindergarten student at Grace S. Beck Elementary School in the Shikellamy School District.
"He's a very energetic young boy," Derek Van Ruler said. "He loves playing outside. He loves getting his hands dirty. He enjoys life. He's adapted well into our family."
Donovan, who has been with the family since July 2015 is the first child the Van Rulers have fostered. They are fostering another child and hope to adopt three or four more children.
"We are drawn to fostering," Derek Van Ruler said. "There's a huge need and not enough people are stepping up to fill that need."
Email Justin Strawser at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLStrawser.