LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - One-hundred and three children: That's how many in the Lake Charles region now have forever families because of adoption - this year alone.
As part of National Adoption Month, we are taking a deeper look into the cause of connecting children with loving homes.
State Senator Ronnie Johns of Sulphur said the state of Louisiana has a reason to celebrate its adoption efforts.
"We lead the nation in foster care adoptions," he said. "We've actually led the nation the last four years."
Seven-hundred and thirty-five children were adopted from foster care from October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016 - 103 of these children are from the Lake Charles area.
It is an issue very close to Johns' heart. He and his wife, Michelle, adopted their daughter, Claire, 27 years ago.
"There's unconditional love there," he said. "That child is your child. You nurture that child, you bond with that child. ou regard that child as your own."
Johns has repeatedly fought for and passed legislation to help adoptive families, after seeing first-hand some of the cracks in the system.
"To make it easier for them to go through the adoptive process, but to make absolutely sure that that adoption is safe once it's completed," he said.
Both Johns and Department of Children and Family Services area director, Dawn Sahualla, have seen a positive shift in the number of families pursuing adoption. That is helping make a noticeable dent in the number of parentless children.
"We have 64 children in our adoptions caseload in the Lake Charles area: Calcasieu, Cameron, Allen, Jeff Davis, and Beauregard," said Sahualla.
Sahualla has helped identify children freed for adoption to feature in KPLC's The New Family Tree, but she said it is important to know there are still so many more at a critical age where sharing their story publicly is just too hard.
"It's really embarrassing at that age to have your peers and your community know that you don't have a family and to know that back story," said Sahualla. "It's a little scary to some of them to be on camera, but they still want a forever family."
Adoptive parents like the Johnses know it is a two-way street: As the parents share unconditional love, the child whose future was once uncertain, blooms.
"That child, in return, is giving us a lot of love, a lot of fulfillment in our life for what we're doing," said Johns. "In my case, I have two wonderful grandchildren because of that adoption."
The adoption certification process through the state starts with orientation and then a series of classes. To learn more, call the Department of Children and Family Services at 337-491-2470 or click here.
On Nov. 18th, a mass adoption event will happen at the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse with 10 children being formally adopted.
The extraordinary efforts on adoption by Johns have landed him with a national honor. He is the latest recipient of the Angels in Adoptions Award, through the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in Washington, D.C.
Angels in Adoption recognizes people and organizations who work for advocacy on behalf of children in need of a family. Johns and his family recently attended the celebration at the Reagan Center in Washington to accept the honor.