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The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) capped National Adoption Month with a virtual event Monday evening celebrating the 549 families who adopted 756 children from foster care during the past year.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the state’s 22nd Annual Adoption Celebration – like many of this year’s adoption ceremonies – was held virtually via Zoom. The event featured First Lady Donna Edwards, video shout-outs to the adoptive families in each region of the state, a video highlight of an adoptive family, a photo slideshow of adoption ceremonies throughout the year and presentation of DCFS’s annual Adoption Awards.
“Between the pandemic and multiple hurricanes, this has been a challenging year for everyone, including our adoptive families,” DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said. “This has been a year not just of remote work and virtual schooling, but also virtual visitations and Zoom adoption hearings. These families rose to meet every challenge, and we are so humbled by their love and dedication and excited to share in these moments with them.”
“These are our children, and we have a responsibility to ensure that they find safe and loving forever homes,” said First Lady Donna Edwards. “The good news is that many people around our state are stepping up to help. I’m so proud of the team at DCFS and all of the volunteers and families who are doing great work and opening their hearts and homes to our children.”
Despite the pandemic and a series of hurricanes this year, adoptions moved forward across the state. The 756 adoptions finalized during the 2020 Federal Fiscal Year marked the 4th highest number of adoptions from foster care in Louisiana in a single year. The record, set in 2018, is 912.
More than 125 of those adoptions happened completely virtually through videoconferencing such as Zoom. Countless others were partially virtual, with the adoptive family and attorneys present in court while extended family and friends participated by Zoom.
This year’s successes also include the adoptions of 335 siblings who found loving, permanent homes together with 149 families, including 30 families who adopted sibling groups of three or more children.
Teens (ages 13-17) again represented about 9% of all adoptions finalized for the year – a rate that has been on the rise in recent years as the Department has worked to increase permanency for youth in foster care.
This year’s Adoption Awards winners, announced during Monday evening’s celebration, are:
- Legal Partner of the Year: Judge Thomas Duplantier (Lafayette Region). As juvenile court judge for the 15th Judicial District Court, Duplantier is a strong advocate for timely permanency for children and youth in foster care, whether through reunification or adoption. He continuously pushes for adoptions to be finalized expeditiously – even amidst the pandemic. When Duplantier learned during an April 21 hearing that adoptions were not occurring due to the pandemic, he spoke to his fellow judges and offered to preside over all of the district’s adoptions for which petitions had been filed and the adoptions were not being scheduled due to the pandemic. For two days in May, Duplantier presided over hearings to finalize those adoptions for 11 children, with the children and their adoptive parents, attorneys and adoption workers present in the courtroom, while extended family and friends participated via Zoom.
- Individual Partner of the Year: Carla Chrisco (Lake Charles Region). An adoption attorney known for her hard work, professionalism, knowledge and experience, Chrisco has finalized foster care adoptions in the five-parish Lake Charles Region for decades. Her passion for her work shines through in every case. To finalize adoptions as quickly as possible and to accommodate foster parents’ schedules, Chrisco often meets with them at her office early in the morning, after-hours, and even on the weekends. She is only a phone call or text message away when an adoption worker has questions, and she is quick to help resolve any issues that arise. She serves families not only publicly, but also privately – offering assistance and other resources whenever she notices a need. While Chrisco is an attorney by profession, for the many foster/adoptive families she serves in the Lake Charles Region, she is a legend.
- Community Partner of the Year: Bayou Blue Assembly of God (Thibodaux Region). Led by the Rev. Patrick Thompson and his wife Janet, this Houma church has supported adoptions in the Thibodaux Region by hosting adoption celebration events and an adoption match party. Several families in the church have adopted and/or fostered children, and the church has rallied around those families to support them. In addition, the church dedicated a day to promoting fostering and adopting by displaying photos of children awaiting adoptive families. They put together travel bags of healthy treats, activity books and games for children in care, as well as donating snack bags for children visiting a DCFS office. They also support and encourage DCFS adoption staff by providing jars full of motivational and inspirational notes.
- Adoption Region of the Year: Covington Region. Seven staff members finalized a total of 175 adoptions this year, including through 47 virtual adoption hearings for 70 children.
- Adoption Worker of the Year: Lori Troyer. An adoption specialist who has been with the Department for a total of 18 years, Troyer finalized 56 adoptions this year, beating her own record from last year. Troyer is not driven by numbers, however, but by the joy she gets from helping children find permanency with their forever families.
- Adoption and Safe Families Act Award: Alexandria Region. The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 promotes timely permanency planning and placement for children in foster care. This award is being given to the Alexandria Region adoption staff in recognition of their hard work in helping the highest percentage of their adopted children reach permanency within the ASFA guideline of 24 months.
Before Monday evening’s celebration, each adoptive family received a box of goodies and keepsakes, including a “Love makes a family” Christmas tree ornament and holiday cookies, along with a program and link for the event. Each family also will receive a commemorative adoption certificate from the state.