No 9-year-old could have failed to note the virtues of diplomacy in the circumstances. His principal sat on his immediate right, his teacher just another seat away. The principal, to make matters more interesting, was also his foster father; the teacher, his foster mother.

The young man, thus surrounded, did not need much time to consider his reply.

"Do you like going to school?" asked D.C. Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Alprin.

"Yes," said Richard Darnell Meimin, smiling broadly.

His mother and father smiled, too, because they had not come to Alprin's chambers to talk about school. They had come to remove the "foster" from their parenthood, and that is what they did a moment later. Alprin signed his name four times, and Richard Darnell Meimin was their son.

Ten more times, for six more families, the ceremony was repeated yesterday in the court's fourth annual Adoption Day. The celebration, an increasingly precious respite from the heart-heavy work of the court's Family Division and the District's Department of Human Services, filled the courthouse with a joyfully incongruous laughter.

For the children, it was a celebration of security and permanence. For their parents, it was homage to the generosity that enabled them to open their homes and hearts to troubled youngsters. For the judges, lawyers and social workers who make the wrenching problems of child neglect their daily professional mission, it was a welcome day of unaccustomed happy endings.

"This is what happens when the process ends right," said Alprin, the Family Division's presiding judge. "It doesn't always, but today it will."

It was no day for standing on ceremony. Deborah Demille-Wagman, the deputy clerk of the court for the D.C. Court of Appeals, winced instinctively when her adopted son Kevin flung his rattle at Frederick B. Beane, clerk of the superior court, ordinarily a rather grave breach of protocol. But Beane reacted with equanimity, bouncing the infant on his lap and cooing endearments.

With emotions so elemental, a great deal went unspoken yesterday. Michelle Cox, a Army chaplain's assistant who held 9-month-old Mich'aella on her lap, put her head in her hand and wept when Judge Susan Holmes Winfield told her she could "make the adoption final today."

"It looks like mom is ready to do it this very second," said Winfield, herself an adoptive mother.

When Cox, accompanied by her husband, Samuel, finally composed herself, her first words were a plea for reassurance.

"You can't take her back, right?" she asked.

Never, Winfield replied.

The Meimin family set the record for expansion yesterday. Richard and Denise Meimin, who work at the St. John Baptist de la Salle school in Chillum, adopted three brothers and a sister -- Richard Darnell, Steven Michael, Nicole Marie and Dante Albert -- whose parents had been unable to care for them.

The Meimins were a cross-racial adoption (the parents are white, the children black), and they were included in yesterday's ceremony partly to make the point that there are no fixed qualifications for adoptive parents.

"We have so many children who are waiting," said Gwen Menefee of the city's Child and Family Services Division. "We do try to place {with same-race parents}, but when you have people who are motivated and love children, why pass up a chance?"

Local agencies estimate that 4,500 children are in temporary homes in Washington and its suburbs, most in need of permanent adoptive parents. Geneva Ware, the District's chief parental headhunter, urged interested adults to call the city's adoption hot line at 202-727-3161. Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage corporation, is also sponsoring a hot line telephone number -- 800-626-HOPE -- that puts prospective parents in touch with agencies in their area.

One little girl adopted yesterday, whose neglect records were made available on the condition that she not be identified, suggested the depth of the need. Born 4 pounds 11 ounces to a crack-addicted mother, she was left for days at a time as an infant. Yesterday, for the first time in her young life, she had a permanent home.