A Wisconsin couple has adopted their foster daughter, three years after she first arrived at their home in Wauwatosa.
Mandi and Ben Miller were there at Milwaukee's Vel R. Phillips Youth & Family Justice Center (Children's Court Center) with 3-year-old Zari for the big day on Nov. 17.
"November is [National Adoption Awareness Month]. And then Nov. 18 is National Adoption Day, and so our county celebrated it on Nov. 17.," Mandi Miller told "Good Morning America." "We had our parents and some aunts and cousins in the room, which was really nice. It was a 20-minute ceremony in the courtroom. But it was almost a little surreal because so much changed. She's legally ours forever and ever and ever, and yet she is still the same kid. She's still Zari."
Zari first arrived at the Miller home when she was just 4 weeks old, after she was discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"I got a call in the middle of the night on Nov. 12, 2020, seeing if I would take emergency placement of a new baby. And I said, 'Yes,'" Mandi Miller, 38, recalled. "So, she arrived about 45 minutes later [on Nov. 13], which happened to be on my birthday."
"At first, when I met Zari, I was just kind of scared and nervous about a newborn baby being around -- and then fast forward a few months later, I also became licensed [to be a foster parent]," Ben Miller, 33, added. "And then we are here now, three years later."
In the years since, the Millers, who are now parents of five, said Zari has grown into a "very kind and loving" toddler who's also "curious," "adventurous" and "very independent."
"She wants to just be buddies with everybody," Ben Miller said. "She can act a little shy but she's also just ready to roll, so she's got a lot of really nice qualities -- a fun little kid who loves to play dress up, loves adventures and being outside."
Today, Mandi Miller said their home is "usually loud with laughter and playing" but she wouldn't have it any other way, since she has wanted to be a foster parent since she was in high school and met a foster family.
"A lot of our time is spent bonding with them, snuggling and curling up with books or laying in bed with them at night and just establishing healthy relationships in a family when that hasn't always been their model," Mandi Miller said.
In sharing their family's story, the Millers hope to encourage others to consider fostering children or supporting foster families, and to research trauma and gentle parenting as well.
"These kids need direction and help more so than ... just a biological child, if you have one," Ben Miller said. "There are a lot of deep little things you've really got to learn and you gotta be able to roll with the punches."
"I would love other people to consider fostering or adopting," Mandi Miller added. "This is a need in every community, every city, every town, rural, suburb -- like, anywhere has this need. And if people aren't interested in fostering, there are still ways you can support foster parents."
"There's no way we could have five little kids if we were doing this 100% on our own," she added. "We have so much love and support and encouragement, even if it's a phone call or a babysitter for a night or whatever it is. It takes a whole community to support these families and these kids, and we're doing our part."