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In Federal Fiscal Year 2008, 433 families adopted 587 Louisiana foster children, including 299 special needs children and 117 children over the age of nine.
Louisiana's award for 2008 totaled $1,206,559 and was the ninth largest amount awarded to the 37 states that met the criteria.
"These funds, which will be used to enhance the state's programs for abused and neglected children and promote foster child adoption, represent more than just a dollar sign," said DSS Secretary Kristy Nichols. "The award celebrates Louisiana's continuing commitment to ensuring that each child in the state has a safe, loving home."
DSS has two years to spend the funds, which will go to approved child welfare activities and programs that support and promote foster child adoption. The agency will begin putting together recommendations in the next few months.
The Adoption Incentives program was created as part of the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which authorized incentive funds to states that increased the number of children adopted from foster care. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 provided stronger incentives for states to find children, particularly older children and children with special needs, adoptive homes.
The 2008 Act established 2007 as a baseline for awards. For Louisiana, those figures are 419 overall foster child adoptions, 210 special needs adoptions and 96 adoptions of children nine and older.
The incentive awards for each child over the baseline: $4,000 for each foster child adoption; $4,000 for each special needs child; and $8,000 for each child age nine or older.
DSS credits specialized training of its adoption and home development staff and concentrated efforts to recruit new adoptive and foster families for the additional 168 adoptions in Louisiana over the state's 2007 figures.
In total, HHS awarded $35 million to Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Puerto Rico also qualified for an incentive award.
There were 4,760 children in Louisiana's foster care program at the end of September, cared for by approximately 3,000 foster families, as well as in residential programs. More than 300 of those children are available for adoption.
DSS recruits year-round for foster families who can house and care for a child or children temporarily. Orientation meetings are held each month across the state. Orientation schedules are posted at www.dss.louisiana.gov/fostercare. Additional information on qualifications, the certification process and life as a foster family can also be found at the site.
"Although the first goal of foster care is to reunite the child with his or her biological family, a top priority for DSS' foster child program is pairing children who can be adopted with families who can give them safe, permanent homes," said Nichols.
Along with more television, radio and newspaper features, an additional initiative hopes to link foster children who are available to be adopted with families. DSS launched a feature on its Web site, www.dss.louisiana.gov, in February that profiles foster children who are available for adoption. In the eight months that the feature has been active, six of the children profiled have been paired with families and have adoptions in progress.
Some of the children currently featured on the DSS Web site include John, a mechanically-gifted 15-year-old who is considering going into the Air Force after high school, Breanna, an active nine-year-old who loves animals, and Jamal, a friendly 12-year-old whose smile lights up a room.
The DSS Web site also features information for prospective adoptive parents, including guides to determine if families are ready to open their home to a child and instructions on how to start the adoption process. That information can be found at www.dss.louisiana.gov/adoption, along with a link to a national adoption Web site, www.adoptuskids.org, which features information about Louisiana foster children and sibling groups available for adoption.