DCFS and First Lady Donna Edwards celebrate 612 adoptions from foster care with virtual event
BATON ROUGE, La. (DCFS) - The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) marked National Adoption Month with a virtual event Thursday evening celebrating 470 families who adopted 612 children and youth from foster care during the past year.
The state’s 23rd Annual Adoption Celebration was held virtually via Zoom due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“In Louisiana, as across the nation, we’ve seen fewer children coming into care over the past couple years – both because of the pandemic and because of prevention efforts – and that’s reflected in the decreasing number of children exiting care through adoption,” said DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters. “With our continued shift toward prevention, we expect those numbers to continue to fall. One thing that hasn’t decreased, though, is our commitment to the children we serve, and we are so thankful that families have continued to step up and open their hearts and homes to children and youth in foster care.”
“Louisianans have weathered so much over the past year, and yet we continue to see families stepping into the gap for children in need,” said First Lady Donna Hutto Edwards. “Their devotion and commitment are inspiring and should serve as a reminder to everyone that these are Louisiana’s children – they are yours and mine – and we are all responsible for their well-being and their future.”
Despite the pandemic and multiple hurricanes, DCFS has continued to identify and certify adoptive families for children in the State’s custody who have been freed for adoption. Training courses moved online in 2020, providing more flexibility for families by allowing them to take the first steps toward certification from anywhere with an internet connection.
In addition, the Department has been diligently focused on ensuring there is a concurrent plan for each child, if reunification is not possible. This means earlier identification and preparation of families who are committed to providing a forever home for children who become free for adoption.
As a result, DCFS continues to see a decrease in the number of children the agency is still recruiting a forever home for. Last year, agency workers were actively recruiting for 330 children at the end of the state fiscal year on June 30; this year, that number was 283. As of November 17, 2021, that number has dropped further still – to 256.
Of the 612 children whose adoptions were finalized in the 2021 Federal Fiscal Year (FFY), 229 were siblings who found loving, permanent homes together in 105 families, including 17 families who adopted three or more siblings.
Teens (ages 13-17) represented about 11% 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.
Twenty of this year’s adoptions were completed with the help of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters, specialized adoption workers assigned to take on some of the most challenging and complex cases, through a partnership with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Louisiana has 9 Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters, including one who works within the Extended Foster Care program and completed the state’s first young adult adoption from that program this year.
“Everyone needs connection and a sense of permanency in their life, and that’s no less true for young adults,” Walters said. “You never outgrow the need for family, and we are thrilled to have helped this young adult find permanency through adoption.”
This year’s Adoption Awards winners, announced during Thursday evening’s celebration, are:
QPI Partner of the Year: Melissa and Allen Nauss, Orleans Region – Melissa and Allen Nauss are a perfect example of the Quality Parenting Initiative in action. The Nausses became certified foster parents in 2017 and, throughout the process, kept an open mind, open heart and open home to the children who were placed with them. In December 2018, they welcomed a child into their home with the understanding that the case plan was reunification. The family participated in every aspect of the case and formed a bond with the biological parents. Unfortunately, the parents were not able to be reunified with thir child, but this did not stop the Nausses’ determination to support the parents. They kept communication open between the child and the parents, even after their rights were terminated. The Nausses adopted the child and invited the birth parents to the adoption and the events that were planned afterward. Melissa Nauss said QPI, an initiative Louisiana adopted in 2016, was a success in their family’s journey. Today, Nauss continues to wear her advocate’s hat, working with mothers of Grace House who are involved with DCFS. Her goal is to help them work their case plans to have a successful reunification with their children.
Community Partner of the Year: Andria Fontenot with Fostering Community, Alexandria Region – Andria Fontenot is an adoptive/foster parent and advocate for children who co-founded and serves as executive director of Fostering Community, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of children impacted by foster care through advocacy, resources and support. Fostering Community provides support to foster children and families in numerous ways, including through the Louisiana Heart Gallery for the Alexandria Region, Foster Care Closet, first night supply for children entering foster care, Cenla Foster Parent Support Group, Fostering Families – New Foster Parent Mentor Group, Birthday-in-a-Box gift, Safe Sleep campaign, weighted blanket program, Christmas Joy project, and the My Community Cares Initiative.
Advocate of the Year: State Representative Michael T. Johnson – Rep. Michael T. Johnson, R-Pineville, has long been an advocate for families, having served as the founding president of the Rapides Children’s Advocacy Center and Court Appointed Special Advocate program. This year, he continued to advocate on behalf of Louisiana’s foster and adoptive families, leading the charge on the state budget amendment that included $11.9 million for the first increase in the state’s foster care board rate in more than a decade. The additional funding allowed not only for an increase of about 25% in the board rates paid to foster caregivers, but also an increase in the adoption and guardianship subsidies that are tied to the board rate. The new rates, which went into effect on July 1, 2021, provide more assistance to families to help meet the daily needs of the child for shelter, food, clothing, allowance and incidental expenses. The last rate increase was in 2007.
Adoption Region of the Year: Covington Region – The Covington Region had the highest average of adoptions finalized per adoptions worker of any region in the state, with 8 adoptions workers finalizing a total of 154 adoptions this year.
Adoption Worker of the Year: Rhonda Lopez, Covington Region – Rhonda Lopez is an adoption petition worker described by her supervisor as “the backbone” and ever-present strength of the region’s Adoptions Unit. Lopez managed 175 intra-family and private adoptions this past year, in addition to helping finalize all of the agency’s petitions. Without her, the Region could not have finalized 154 adoptions this past year. Lopez can always be counted on to assist the Adoptions Unit in any capacity, often going with a worker or supervisor to transport a foster child to a new placement. She is quick to offer a hand in times of crisis or placement disruption, as well as anytime children are in the office, always showing compassion in their time of need and confusion. Lopez has helped train new adoption workers on report requirements and how to obtain revised birth certificates. She also interviews families, performs clearances and completes confidential reports and home studies. She works long hours and can always be counted on for anything the unit or children need.
Adoption and Safe Families Act Award: Shreveport 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 Shreveport 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.
For more information about adoption from foster care, visit //www.dcfs.la.gov/adopt.
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