Couple seeks help to fulfill adoption hopes
Courtney and Craig Melfi want their niece to be able to start school this fall as a fully-fledged member of their family.
But that dream — to adopt the little girl whose mother was killed in a 2010 car crash — faces steep financial hurdles.
“My husband and I are ready to make her part of our family,” said Courtney Melfi of her niece, Leah Littleton, 5. “When Leah first came to us, she was scared and she wanted her mommy. We did our best to make things normal for her again.”
The Melfis, both 32 of Arnold, want to formally adopt Leah so she can begin kindergarten this fall as a Melfi. The Melfis have two children together, Liam, 4; and Molly, 6.
But the cost of adoption — which varies based on the type, whether it is contested and whether the birth parents can be located — was too much for the middle-class family to come up with all at once.
The Melfis called several attorneys and found the average estimated cost was about $6,000, so they made that their fundraising goal on GiveForward, a website that allows users to create a unique page to raise money for various causes.
Since March 30, nearly $4,000 has been donated.
Leah's mother, Amanda Crook, 26, died in November 2010 when a flat-bed tow truck crashed into the car in which she was a passenger in the West End Circle.
The Melfis first took Leah in a few days after Crook's funeral, and a Washington County judge later granted Courtney Melfi custody of Leah.
“It was a really big transition and we made it work,” Melfi said. “We never asked for anybody's help.”
Leah's father, Cole Littleton, who is believed to be living in Joffre, Washington County, hasn't had contact with his daughter for two years, Courtney Melfi said.
According to court records, he has a history of drug arrests in Washington and Allegheny counties and recently served 12 months on probation after pleading guilty to drug possession.
The Valley News Dispatch could not find an address or a phone number for Littleton.
The Melfis said they haven't talked to Littleton about the adoption.
“I don't feel like he's going to contest it,” Courtney Melfi said.
A costly process
For the adoption to proceed, Littleton's parental rights would have to be terminated either voluntarily or involuntarily if he can't be located, said adoption attorney Mary Ann Petrillo of Greensburg.
She said adoption isn't always as costly as people believe, but it does cost several thousand dollars.
“The expenses have to do with the circumstances of each case,” Petrillo said. “The only time you would have more expenses is if you have to newspaper-publish because you can't find out where the birth parent is.”
There are also additional costs if the adoption is contested, said Deborah Lesko, an adoption attorney in Scott Township.
“I do adoptions across the country and, often times, it's cheaper (in Pennsylvania),” she said. “If it's a family or relative adoption, the costs are much, much cheaper than through an agency because, basically, they will just pay the attorney fee.”
Agency adoptions can cost as much as $20,000, she said.
In the Melfis' case, the adoption would be private, and neither the state's foster care system nor Department of Public Welfare would be involved.
“Initially, when kids enter the foster system we want to find kin for them to be with,” said Carrie Keiser, human service specialist with the Office of Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Public Welfare. “For me (the Melfis) is a great arrangement because she didn't end up in the foster care system.”
Paying it forward
Tara Hintz, Amanda Crook's cousin, set up the GiveForward account after she read about the website in news stories about donations being made for a homeless man who returned a diamond engagement ring that a woman accidentally dropped into his change cup.
“I'm an adoptive parent myself, so I know how hard it is and how much it costs,” said Hintz, of Wickenburg, Ariz.
She said that about 10 years ago, a couple from her church gave them the money to pay to adopt a boy from their church whose aunt and uncle could no longer raise him.
“They told us ‘some day we want you to pay it forward,' ” Hintz said. “This just makes sense.”
Adoption attorneys who spoke with the Valley News Dispatch estimated they could execute the adoption for between $2,500 and $3,000.
Courtney Melfi said she was glad to hear it.
“If we can find someone who can do it for less than $6,000, I'll put the rest of the money in a trust for Leah; that way she can have something for when she's older,” she said.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.