Adorable Photos Of Kids May Have Caused Uptick In Hamilton County Adoptions
Judge Ralph Winkler was a criminal court judge for more than 30 years when he started to notice a common thread between people convicted of crimes: Many of them had abusive childhoods or had no family at all.
"I started asking around. I'm like, 'If we get these kids adopted into good families younger and quicker, that's going to change the trajectory of their life,' " he said.
When he ran for Hamilton County Probate Judge and was elected in 2015, he put adoption front and center as a priority. Since then, hundreds of more children have been adopted in Hamilton County than would have been otherwise.
"We checked with other counties to see if they had big increases — some of the bigger counties — and Warren County was flat, which is just north of us," he said. "Clermont actually had decreases in adoptions in the same time period. Cuyahoga County up in Cleveland was decreased. And then Franklin County, that's Columbus, has been flat," he said. "So something's going on down here. And I feel like just the changes I've made helped get more people interested in adopting."
Before he took office, there were roughly 190-220 adoptions per year. Then the numbers began an uptick: 263, 282, 291. In 2019, there were 375 adoptions. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic slowing down court processes, there were still more than 290 adoptions in 2020.
"I feel like 2021 will be another big year. We'll be up around 375 to 400," Winkler said.
The key to increasing adoption rates in the county? Possibly adorable photos of kids on social media.
Winkler started the Photograph Program, where every family gets a photo in the courtroom after the adoption is finalized. And those photos of smiling families start making the rounds on social media and get people engaged with the adoption process.
He also made it a point to reach out to the media about adoption events, including National Adoption Day and Back to School Adoption Day, the latter of which he created in the city.
And he took on handling all adoption cases himself instead of delegating the cases to magistrate judges so the cases could have more consistency.
"They've been so much fun," he said. "I don't really get why the previous judges didn't do them."
For more information about adoptions in Hamilton County, visit the HCkids website.