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BATON ROUGE, LA - Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services kicked off National Adoption Month Wednesday, Nov. 1 at the Louisiana Governor's Mansion by hosting the 25th annual Adoption Celebration, honoring the 465 families who adopted 619 children and youth from foster care during the past year.
"As John Bel and I have always said, we believe these are our children and that we have a responsibility to help them find safe, secure and nurturing families where they can grow and develop the skills they need to be successful in life," First Lady Donna Edwards said. "We are so happy to see all these new families being formed, and so grateful for the love and dedication they have shown to making a better future for Louisiana's children - our children."
"In Child Welfare, we work to strengthen the families we serve, with the ultimate goal of reunifying those families. But when that cannot happen, we seek to find loving, permanent homes and families for children through adoption," said DCFS Secretary Terri Ricks, who presented the department's adoption awards at the event. "I'm grateful to be able to share in the joy of this day, to celebrate with and honor some special families and partners who've gone above and beyond for Louisiana's children."
Among the state's 619 adoptions from foster care this year were 4 young adult adoptions from the Extended Foster Care program, which serves young adults ages 18-21. Another 43 adoptions - or 7% of all adoptions this year - were of youth ages 13-17.
Altogether, 307 siblings were adopted together by 176 families. Of the 465 families adopting, 133 are single parents, who adopted 175 of the 619 children.
Nine 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.
This year's Adoption Award winners, announced during Wednesday afternoon's celebration, included two Adoptive Families of the Year and two Community Partners of the Year. They are:
DCFS Adoptive Family of the Year: Cecilia and Ernest Carter, Thibodaux Region
Ernest and Cecilia Carter were determined to keep their family together, which is why they adopted their three grandchildren. The Carters chose to take in their grandchildren, ages 3, 6 and 12, when the children were unable to remain in their home. The Carters have become particularly strong advocates for their 12-year-old granddaughter, always taking the initiative to get the services they feel can benefit her. Never once have they questioned their decision to foster and adopt in order to keep their grandchildren in their family.
DCFS Adoptive Family of the Year: Katie and Cody Monteleone, Covington Region
Katie and Cody Monteleone were directing a Teen Reach Adventure Camp, where they met several children in foster care over the years. After inquiring about a particular child in the summer of 2022, a DCFS staff member let them know that the agency remains in need of foster homes for teens. Then, in October 2022, they learned of a 17-year-old whose adoption had fallen through. The Monteleones took the youth in to live with them and their 3-year-old son, Graham. They formed a bond very quickly, and the Monteleones became certified to adopt. They officially adopted the youth on May 9, 2023, the morning of her high school graduation, so she could graduate with her new name. The Monteleones have assisted her with getting into college and getting her U.S. citizenship. She is now going to school and working, all while living at home with Katie, Cody and Graham.
Advocate of the Year: Paula C. Davis
Paula C. Davis has more than 20 years of both domestic and international adoption experience, and has dedicated her career to serving the children who are more challenging to place. A Field Education Liaison and instructor with the LSU School of Social Work, she was previously the Clinical Director of Catholic Charities in Baton Rouge. Davis has been instrumental in helping to build post-adoption services for families. Through a partnership between DCFS and the national Center for Adoption Support and Education, she has trained social work, behavioral health and child welfare professionals across the state on adoption competencies. The training helps these professionals meet the needs of the adoptive children and families they serve by better understanding the core issues they face. Davis has volunteered her time and expertise to offer this course over the last two years, and she plans to continue doing so in 2024. She is a member of the Louisiana Law Institute's Children's Code Committee and the Louisiana Adoption Advisory Board. In 2019, Davis was named an Angel in Adoption by the Congressional Coalition for Adoption Institute.
Community Partner of the Year: James Samaritan, Covington Region
James Samaritan is a nonprofit organization from Covington whose mission is to "connect the community and church to create healthy support systems for kids and families in our foster care system." Founded by Kim Bigler, James Samaritan has lived up to that mission and proven to be an invaluable resource for both DCFS and foster families. The organization hosts family visits, as well as adoption meet and greets, at their building. They provide donations of all sorts to help kinship caregivers or youth who are aging out of foster care, and they organize an annual Christmas gift drive for children in foster care. All of these supports are in addition to James Samaritan's programs, which include: Life Network, a mentoring program for teens and young adults; Life Institute, a weekend for young adults in foster care to connect with healthy community mentors; and Royal Family Kids Camp, which offers children in foster care the opportunity to go to a summer camp.
Community Partner of the Year: Foster the Love, Lafayette Region
Foster the Love was founded by Heather Duhon who, along with her husband, Matt, fostered and adopted two of their five children through Louisiana's foster care system. Understanding the unique needs of foster families, Duhon started the nonprofit organization five years ago to provide support and resources. Foster the Love now has a freestanding building in Broussard that is a fully stocked community closet full of gently used clothes, baby equipment, diapers and formula. They helped establish a community closet in the rural area of Church Point and are working to open satellite locations in a few other cities. Foster the Love offers First Night Bags of clothing and hygiene items for children who are going into a foster home for the first time. The nonprofit provides frequent social events throughout the year for foster families to get to know each other. They also assisted with renovations to the visitation rooms in the DCFS Lafayette Regional office, ensuring that children and families are visiting in a warm, friendly environment. Not only does Foster the Love support current foster families, but they provide outreach services to churches and other organizations to share the need for more certified foster families.
Adoption Worker of the Year: Lori Troyer, Covington Region
Lori Troyer has been with DCFS for 19 years, and she has served as an Adoptions Specialist for the past 13 years. She has finalized hundreds of adoptions throughout her tenure, including 28 adoptions this past year alone. Troyer has an outstanding work ethic that can be seen in the way she advocates for the children and families she works with. She has been successful in finding adoptive homes for many teens and thinks out of the box to find the best way to achieve permanency. Troyer is such a dedicated employee, she has earned the honor of Adoption Worker of the Year twice before.
Adoption Region of the Year: Thibodaux Region
The Thibodaux Region received this next award for the second year in a row. Their Adoption unit finalized 74 adoptions this past year with only three full-time Adoption Specialists, an average of 24.7 adoptions per worker.
For more information about adoption from foster care, visit www.dcfs.la.gov/adopt.