More Mississippi children in foster care have been adopted during the state fiscal year 2019 than ever before. The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (MDCPS) finalized 657 adoptions between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, which was an increase over the previous record of 647 adoptions finalized the previous year.
So far in July, another 23 adoptions have been finalized with 129 more only waiting for final approval by the court. This means that within a few more weeks more than 800 children will be at home with their new forever families.
“This is an amazing number—but instead of statistics, we see 800 smiling faces. We celebrate the fact that hundreds of children are now safe and cared for in their forever family homes,” said Marcus Davenport, director of Adoption and Permanency Services for the state’s lead child welfare agency. “This has been a team effort—from our frontline staff to our adoption staff both in the counties and here at the state office.”
MDCPS has worked to remove obstacles to speed along the adoption process. In 2017, the agency identified almost 1,500 children who were lingering in foster care while their adoptions had been stalled for a myriad of reasons. In partnership with the local courts and with the Mississippi Attorney General’s office, MDCPS began examining each case and assigned staff and attorneys to resolve obstructions and address problems preventing the cases from moving forward.
SFY 2019’s new adoption record overtakes SFY 2018’s record performance which increased by more than 100% the number of adoptions finalized in SFY 2017 (The state fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30).
As of July 25th, MDCPS said they had finalized more than 2,000 adoptions since July 1, 2015.
- So far in July 2019, 23 adoptions have been finalized.
- In SFY 2019, 657 adoptions were finalized.
- In SFY 2018, 647 adoptions were finalized.
- In SFY 2017, 302 adoptions were finalized.
- In SFY 2016, 373 adoptions were finalized.
“That is an accomplishment worth celebrating by all Mississippians,” said Tonya Rogillio, who as MDCPS deputy commissioner of child welfare oversees the agency’s adoption efforts. “That represents 2,000 young lives that have been changed for the better, forever.”
Davenport says each of the hundreds of adoptions finalized by the agency in the past fiscal year is a result of countless hours of work to prepare both the families and the children for the adoption process. Private attorneys, the Mississippi College School of Law’s Adoption Clinic and the Mississippi Attorney General’s office support the agency by navigating each child’s case throughout an almost endless series of legal steps before the actual adoption is finalized in a Mississippi chancery courtroom.
“I am so proud of our adoption supervisors, adoption specialists, and our support team. I am continually amazed by what they are able to accomplish on a daily basis,” Davenport said. “What we are celebrating as a milestone in MDCPS history is all because of their hard work, dedication, and heart for Mississippi’s children who are entrusted into our care.”
The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services now has about 4,500 infants, children, and youth in state foster care—roughly 20% fewer children than the highest count which was recorded in early 2017. As of July 24, 2019, the number of Mississippi children in foster care has been safely reduced to 4,525.
Nationally, the foster care population has been on the rise for several years, and the U.S. Children’s Bureau is leading efforts to reverse this trend. Mississippi is, in this respect, ahead of the curve and is being recognized as a national leader in safely reducing the foster care population while many states continue to experience an increase.
“I am so proud of our professional staff, frontline workers, and supervisors who have contributed to this substantial reduction in the number of children in state custody without any compromise to the safety and well-being of the children, whether those reunified with their birth parents, those placed in guardianships with relatives, or those adopted into their new forever homes,” said MDCPS Commissioner Jess H. Dickinson.
In April 2017, the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services had custody of more than 6,000 children who had been placed into foster care by the courts because of neglect, abuse or exploitation. The number of children in state custody began increasing in 2014 and 2015 and steadily increased until it peaked at 6,100 in July 2017. At that point, MDCPS leadership launched a concerted “Safe at Home” effort to reduce the trauma caused to children and families by removal into foster care. MDCPS, the courts, and private agency partners together increased efforts to provide in-home services to parents and families to address problems and issues which otherwise would force the removal of children from their homes and placing them into state custody. By safely maintaining children in their homes, significant and long-lasting trauma to more than a thousand Mississippi families and their children has been avoided.
“We are grateful to our excellent youth court judges, guardians ad litem, parent representatives, and other youth court staff for their careful attention to the needs of the children, and their willingness to work alongside MDCPS to accomplish this significant milestone,” Dickinson said.
According to Rogillio, MDCPS’s priority is to “ensure the safety and protection of every child. Our goal is to move these children, safely and prudently, into permanency whether that be reunification with their birth parent or other family members — or through adoption, if it is determined by the courts it will not be possible to return them to their homes.”
“Ensuring the safety and protection of Mississippi’s children is the single most important consideration for every action we take regarding the care of these children,” Rogillio said,
Children who come into state custody are placed by court order into licensed foster care—either with a relative (emergency placement) or with a licensed foster family, therapeutic foster homes, group homes, or residential treatment facilities. A child’s placement is determined by what level of care best meets each child’s individual needs.
“At best, foster care is intended to be a temporary safe haven for children who need the safety and security of out-of-home placement. It was never intended to be a long-term or permanent solution to the problem,” Dickinson said.
Of the children who exit state custody in Mississippi, roughly 20 percent are adopted and more than 50 percent are reunified with their birth parent(s). The remaining youth and children are placed into legal guardianship, custody is given to other family members/relatives, or other permanent living arrangements are established.
“We operate on the conviction that children develop best when raised in families and that all children and youth both need and deserve a permanent and loving family,” Rogillio added. “Foster care is not the first option for MDCPS. It is not permanency. It is temporary.”