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BATON ROUGE, LA — The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is celebrating another record-breaking year of adoptions from foster care as families gather at Istrouma Baptist Church this afternoon for the state's 20th Annual Adoption Celebration.
The event, previously scheduled to be held at the Governor's Mansion, was relocated to the church due to possible impending weather.
Louisiana once again set a record for finalized adoptions in FFY 2018, with 912 children finding loving, permanent homes with 631 families between Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30, 2018. The new record represents an 18 percent leap over the bar set just last year, when 771 foster children were adopted by 548 families.
"We are thrilled to have another record-breaking year of families stepping up to provide loving homes for Louisiana's foster children," said First Lady Donna Edwards. "Adoption is life-changing for a child, providing not only a family but a sense of belonging that can buoy a child's spirit and serve as the foundation they need to reach their fullest potential."
In addition to the 912 children who were adopted in FFY 2018, another 2,332 children were reunified with their families, either returning home or to the custody or guardianship of a relative.
"Our goal for every child who comes into foster care is permanency - that is, a safe, stable and loving home, whether through adoption or reunification with their family," said DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters. "I am so proud of our staff for helping so many children to reach that place in their journey this year."
Multiple factors contributed to this year's overwhelming success in adoptions, including:
1. Assigning Additional Staff Support
In the Thibodaux Region, assigning additional staff support nearly doubled that region's adoptions, from 49 to 95, and accounted for about a third of the state's overall increase in finalized adoptions for the year.
2. Increasing Sibling & Teen Adoptions
DCFS increased the number of families who adopted more than one child, including sibling groups. A third of the families who adopted foster children this year - 214 of 631 families - took in two or more children, with 143 families (22.7 percent) adopting siblings. Last year, 101 of 548 families (18.4 percent) adopted siblings. The increase in families adopting siblings is due in part to new avenues for recruiting foster parents, such as Louisiana Fosters, as well as the department's added emphasis on recruiting families who are able and willing to keep siblings together.
"Louisiana Fosters has helped us not only to strengthen the support systems for foster families, but also to shine a huge spotlight on the need for foster parents and connect community and faith-based organizations in a way that has strengthened our recruitment efforts," Walters said.
DCFS also saw a 30.8 percent increase in the number of teens (ages 13-17) adopted from foster care - the highest increase of any age group - with 68 teens finding permanent homes in FFY 2018 compared to 52 in FFY 2017. Other age groups saw the following increases in finalized adoptions: 0-4 years old, up 14.7 percent; 5-9 years old, up 22.2 percent; and 10-12 years old, up 16.8 percent.
The department's Wendy's Wonderful Kids recruiters, funded through the Dave Thomas Foundation, have aided this effort, taking on some of the most challenging and complex cases - including teens, sibling groups and children with special needs - to help more children reach the permanency they deserve.
3. Reducing Turnover to Stabilize the Workforce
An undercurrent throughout the year's work was the department's ongoing commitment to stabilize the child welfare workforce. DCFS has made significant progress in its turnover rate since 2015, when the rate topped 25 percent. For 2017, turnover in child welfare had dropped to 16.5 percent, and it appears on track to dip below 13 percent for 2018.
"Reducing caseworker turnover has a tremendous impact on children in foster care," said Dr. Rhenda Hodnett, DCFS Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare. "Research has shown that the fewer caseworkers a child has, the better the outcomes for the child - including a smoother and less traumatizing path through the foster care system, with fewer placements and a better likelihood of reaching timely permanency."
The 20th Annual Adoption Celebration, hosted Thursday by First Lady Donna Edwards, will bring the state's new adoptive families together for an afternoon of fun and special recognition and give DCFS an opportunity to present awards to adoption advocates for their work over the past year.
Those receiving awards Thursday are:
- Community Advocate Award: Northpoint Community Church, Shreveport Region. Northpoint has played an active role in advocating for foster and adoptive families in the Shreveport Region, hosting a foster/adoptive parent support group on a monthly basis and providing child care for the families. The church also coordinates with the Louisiana Baptist Children's Home to provide regular in-service training for foster and adoptive parents at the church, they hosted a Family Fun Day for all foster/adoptive families in the region in March 2018, and they have hosted the Louisiana Heart Gallery display for the Shreveport Region twice within the past year. The church also has begun a mentoring program for teens who are in shelters.
- Individual Advocate Award: Brandon Reeder, Monroe Region. As Union Parish 4-H agent, Mr. Reeder has partnered with the DCFS Adoptions Unit for four years, leading a group of 4-H youth who provide book bags, school supplies, hygiene items and clothing for foster children in their area. The club members also give each child a "Birthday in a Box." These boxes, compiled by age and gender, contain cake mixes, candles, decorations and birthday gifts for foster children. Mr. Reeder, an adoptive parent himself, also actively recruits foster/adoptive parents in his community and assists each year with adoption events in the Monroe Region.
- Communication Advocate Award: Heart Gallery of Northeast LA, Monroe Region. The Heart Gallery of Northeast LA is a traveling photographic exhibit created to help find forever families for children in foster care. The group provides professional photographers to take portraits of the children who have been freed for adoption and are without an adoptive resource and also makes flyers to help spread the word.
- DCFS Adoption Region of the Year: Covington Region (196 adoptions finalized)
- DCFS Adoption Worker of the Year: Erica R. Jones (51 adoptions finalized)