District judge Sandra Price presided over her last set of adoption hearings

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FARMINGTON — It was a relief for Dustin Monge to complete the adoption process for her 2-year-old son Lucas Monge during a hearing last week in Farmington District Court.

Dustin was worried as she and her husband Josue Monge worked through the adoption process because she had become attached to the 2-year-old and didn't want to lose him.

The idea of Lucas being adopted by a member of his parents' family was discussed at one point, which stressed Dustin out.

"Knowing he'll be a part of the family forever, it's really taken a huge burden off of us," Dustin said in a telephone interview.

The Monges' hearing was one of two that took place on Nov. 14 in front of District Judge Sandra Price in observance of National Adoption Day.

Patricia Hale, the foster and adoptive parent recruitment navigator for the state Children, Youth and Families Department, said Nov. 14 was chosen to celebrate the event because the district court was closed on Saturday, the original date for the nationwide event.

It is held to raise awareness of the need for adoptive and foster caregivers.

There were 112 children in foster care in San Juan County as of Nov. 12, according to CYFD. Statewide, there were 2,681 children in foster care as of that date.

 

A total of 1,371 foster homes were operating in New Mexico as of Sept. 30 with 56 of them in San Juan County, according to CYFD.

The Monges' hearing was one of two closed hearings The Daily Times was allowed to attend and photograph. In an earlier hearing, David and Jan Levin adopted 15-year-old Charles Levin and 13-year-old Ryan Levin.

Ryan and Jan shared a big hug in the courtroom after Price finalized their adoption.

Jan said the hearing was fun and that it felt good to adopt her grandchildren.

David and Jan became licensed foster parents when Charles and Ryan moved in into their home in February 2016. David said their grandchildren moved in with them due to family issues but added they have thrived since they moved in and are doing much better in school now.

 

"They are our grandchildren, and we want them to have some permanency in their life," David Levin said in a telephone interview.

Following the hearing, Ryan and Charles both said they were happy to be adopted, with Ryan adding he felt joyful that the adoption process is over.

Price selected Ryan to help pick out a blanket and pillow given to children following their adoption hearing. Ryan chose a blanket and pillow with a camouflage pattern for Charles, and blanket and pillow with a John Deere theme for himself.

The Monges' hearing took place following the hearing for the Levin family.

Lucas was dressed in an Incredible Hulk costume during the hearing, lying in Dustin's arms as she answered questions from Price.

 

"He calls himself the Hulk," Dustin said. "It makes him feel brave when he's out in public."

CYFD placed Lucas with Dustin and Josue on Oct. 23, 2015, when he was about 5 months old. Lucas quickly became a member of their family, which includes four other children.

In July 2016, the couple adopted 3-year-old Jessica, who was Dustin's niece at the time. Jessica and her siblings were in the courtroom on Nov. 14, waiting with presents for Lucas during the hearing.

Lucas was happy to receive gifts from the San Juan County Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteers, Dustin said. The service offered by Childhaven works to ensure children have a permanent home and advocate for them in the court system.

Jan Levin described CASA volunteer Tami Evans as one of her biggest supporters during the adoption process of Charles and Ryan, adding that she's become good friends with Evans.

Price was presiding over her last set of adoption hearings as she prepares to retire at the end of the year. At the end of each hearing, she posed for pictures with the families before the bench.

Price was elected to the Division 3 district judge seat for the 11th Judicial District during the Nov. 2, 2004, general election. She has been serving on the bench since January 2005.

"It actually makes me kind of sad. I enjoy the adoptions," Price said.

She said it was nice to see things come full circle after she also has handled hearings in which parental rights are terminated.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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