JASPER COUNTY, Mo. — It could be the biggest day of a kid’s life – and a local judge is using a unique set of skills to highlight the celebration.

What’s different about these court proceedings?

You think about a normal court hearing – it’s going to involve testimony and a lot of paperwork.
Pretty high level stuff.

“Today’s really special,” said Emily Dunavent, Adoptive Mom.

It’s a “Gotcha Day.”

That’s what they call it when the lengthy process for adoption is finally final.

“Today is like the biggest day. Probably of my life. I’ve dreamed about this day and they were eight months in daycare and it’s just a dozen. It feels surreal even me talking about it.”

Adoptive mom Emily Dunavent knows exactly what all this testimony and paperwork means. Tougher concepts for five and six year olds – but Judge Joe Hensley wants to make sure it’s special for them, too.

“I do balloon animals. It’s something I picked up during our campaign back in 2014. And I just continued to do it for our adoption kids,” said Jasper Co. Judge Joe Hensley.

Hensley had done more than a thousand adoptions as an attorney before becoming a judge. He wanted to make that special when he took over the bench, so he decided to invest a little time and energy.

“Bears. We have, let’s see giraffes, elephants, I can make all kinds of things.”

Not something you’d normally see in the courtroom – but something Emily Dunavent says is priceless.

“Judge Hensley is amazing and has a huge heart for kids who are in the foster care system as a whole. And so this is just a really special thing and I’m so excited that my boys get to experience this with him,” said Dunavent.

Judge Hensley estimates he does 75 to 100 adoptions a year. He says it’s the highlight of his docket.

He points out it costs just a few pennies to make the balloon animals – an investment with a big payoff.