Counting the Blessings of 2020
Marketa Garner Walters
Secretary, Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services
What a year 2020 has been! As we enter a new year full of hope for better days ahead, I want to start by counting the blessings of 2020. And yes, even 2020 had blessings. With the coronavirus pandemic and multiple hurricanes hitting our state, 2020 was a challenging year for everyone, including our foster/adoptive parents. It was a year of remote work and virtual schooling and virtual visitations and Zoom adoption hearings.
Our foster/adoptive families rose to meet every challenge, as did the many wonderful groups and organizations that help support them. To each of them, we say THANK YOU! In the pandemic’s tough early days, school campuses were closed, and medical appointments were challenging to schedule. We had to adopt balanced visitation with other relatives against protecting the health of our families, and it might have been easier for foster caregivers to throw in the towel and say, “This is too much!” But not one of them did. Despite the challenges, our foster families held tight to their love and commitment to the children in their care and proved to be the stability and comfort our children needed – now more than ever.
Standing alongside them were a host of Louisiana Fosters partners who helped bridge the gap, as they always do, between what was and what should be.
In Covington, James Samaritan helped deliver 120 tablets with internet into the hands of families who needed them to maintain connections and virtual visitations between children in foster care and their siblings and parents.
Cypress Baptist Foster Care Closet, in Shreveport, provided meals, cleaning supplies, diapers, and formula for families when these essentials were challenging to find; put together activity packets for families to do together at home and provided an outdoor space where families could safely visit.
Fostering Community in Alexandria offered online support groups for foster caregivers during the pandemic, opened a new facility for birth parents to visit safely with their children, and gave away an enormous amount of formula when the shutdown made it scarce.
In Ruston, The Well has provided a free weekly grocery store, and more recently a Christmas store, for foster families and those at higher risk due to the coronavirus.
Brave Heart, in Baton Rouge, provided about 75-80 masks to ensure families and caseworkers interacted safely during the pandemic and provided countless donations of pajamas, socks, undergarments, and hundreds of shoes to victims of the hurricanes in Lake Charles.
Foster the Love, in the Lake Charles and Lafayette regions, purchased clothes, food, and supplies, and paid rent and utility bills for foster families during the pandemic; bought gas, generators, and camping equipment for families after the hurricanes, as well as replacing furniture and essential supplies lost to the storms; and purchased items for more than 600 children’s wish lists for Christmas.
Northshore Enduring Hope opened a new resource center for foster families to obtain furniture, clothing, toys, and other items. They provided 200 students with school supplies; provided coats, clothing, shoes, and diapers for 300 children; delivered 35 families Thanksgiving baskets filled with food and gift cards; and fulfilled the entire Christmas wish lists of 9 teens not yet adopted from care.
One Heart NOLA handed out 1,000 gift/snack packs at an emergency storm shelter. They provided clothing and personal items for more than 500 people and provided furniture and household items for foster and birth families who lost theirs in the storm. They also provided gift cards for groceries during the pandemic and paid utilities, car insurance, and rent for foster families and extended foster care youth in need.
And one brand new group in Ascension parish, Loving Our Community’s Children, opened its doors and has already brought gifts and personal care items for over 92 children and youth!
Throughout the state, Geaux Bags has provided over 2,500 bags filled with pajamas, toiletries, age-appropriate toys, a blanket, and stuffed animals to children involved with the Child Welfare system.
There are so many, many more who went above and beyond this past year, proving everyone can do something to support families, children, and youth in their care! We are so grateful for every one of you!
Despite the pandemic and the storms, we also celebrated the finalization of 756 adoptions with 549 families this past year. That is the 4th highest adoptions total on record for our state!
As The Advocate’s Editorial Board said, “That so many adoptions have been successful is truly a great story for the holidays, any year. But in such a year as 2020, this is a remarkable number.”
More than 125 of those adoptions happened entirely through videoconferencing such as Zoom. Countless others were partially virtual, with the adoptive families and their attorneys in the courtroom while extended family and friends joined through computer or phone screens.
This occasion was the first time we’ve ever done virtual adoption hearings. Usually, the judge’s office’s adoption time is special, and doing without that was challenging for our families. The judges were genuinely heroic, though, in figuring out how to hold the hearings safely and creatively to make them special and celebratory. One judge even had a giant teddy bear in the room so our children could have their picture made with the bear to commemorate the day. Celebrating those adoptions was also held virtually, with our 22nd Annual Adoption Celebration on Zoom. There, too, our Louisiana Fosters partners helped make the evening bright for our families. Empower 225 and the Casey Foundation sponsored gift boxes filled with holiday cookies and a “Love Makes a Family” ornament and shipped directly to each family’s doorstep before the event. We cannot thank them enough for their support!
DCFS is so proud to have had a little part in making these families whole. In light of everything we’ve been through, I’m encouraged that staff was able to continue to support our foster families in keeping children safe and cared for, providing some measure of stability in an otherwise tumultuous year.
For all of our families who met challenges big and small – and all of our Louisiana Fosters partners who helped them along the way – we say Thank You for being the blessings in our lives this past year! In the coming year, we will continue to support and appreciate you for the blessings you bring to all of us and the many children in our care.