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Flags over the Louisiana State Capitol.

Louisiana has for the third year in a row set a record for the most adoptions in one year, with more than 900 foster children finding permanent families and homes in 2018, according to the state's Department of Children and Families. 

From October 2017 through the end of September, 912 children were adopted into 631 families. That's up from the previous record of 771 foster children adopted into 548 families in 2017, department numbers show. 

"That is just a miraculous number," said DCFS Secretary Marketa Walters. “Adoption takes a while, it’s not fast. … We take our time to make sure that it’s a good match.”

But she was also quick to note that in addition to the foster children adopted, another 2,332 children were reunited once again with their families after time in the state's custody, either returning home or to the guardianship of a relative.

“We do everything we can to stabilize and reunify these families," Walters said. "Our goal for every child who comes into foster care is permanency — that is, a safe, stable and loving home, whether through adoption or reunification with their family."

She said she was most excited to see how many teenagers were adopted, historically one of the more challenging groups to find permanent homes for. The department saw a 30 percent increase in the adoptions of children ages 13 to 17 compared to the year prior, with 68 teens adopted. 

“They do want family," Walters said of teenagers, who she said have often formed a tough exterior. "So to find people that love teenagers and are willing to open their hearts and homes to teenagers is especially touching.”

A third of families who adopted this year took in more than one child, many adopting entire sibling groups.

While Walters credited her staff for their continued hard work, she also said two important groups were key in making such strides this year: Louisiana Fosters and Wendy's Wonderful Kids. Louisiana Fosters is a statewide initiative sponsored by Louisiana's first lady, Donna Edwards, that works to pull together community, business, faith and nonprofit organizations to support the foster care system and quality parenting. And Wendy's Wonderful Kids funded new recruiters statewide to take on often challenging cases, like teenagers, children with disabilities and sibling groups, focusing on finding them permanent homes. 

"Adoption is life-changing for a child, providing not only a family, but a sense of belonging that can buoy a child's spirit and serve as the foundation they need to reach their fullest potential," Edwards said in a statement. 

Walters said her department also focused on reducing turnover among her staff, helping bring consistency to children's lives often during their most tumultuous years. She said some of her most senior employees serve on the department's adoption staff, and their dedication and experience continues to show.

But even with such success, there are still 165 children across the state currently seeking adoption, without any plans to be taken in by a new family.

“I would love the day where there wasn’t a single child waiting for a home," Walters said. 

And while those children are always in the back of her mind, she said, meeting some of the children who have found loving, safe and accepting new homes through adoption makes their hard work worth it. At the 20th annual adoption celebration on Thursday, Walters said she met one family that had adopted four children in the past year — none birth siblings — who showed up in matching shirts, proud of their new familial ties.

"They were just precious," Walters said. “It’s just sheer delight to see these families that have become real and new, just to be able to celebrate with them." 

Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.