Celebrating family
Jasmine Giffin, recently adopted through a new program at Missoula Youth Homes, nuzzles her new dad Brad Giffin on Tuesday afternoon during a ceremony. Photo by KURT WILSON/Missoulian

First child adopted through new program has settled in with her new family

On Jasmine Giffin's ninth birthday, she got a new family. This year, they made it permanent.

Over lunch at McDonald's in April of last year, Jasmine, who's 10 now, met Brad and Kristine Giffin and Brian, who's almost 11. Jasmine was staying at Extended Family Services after the state took her, her big sister and her brother out of their troubled birth family in Missoula. The Giffins, who live in Lolo, decided after three visits to become Jasmine's foster family, and a year later, she's their adopted daughter.

"It's the work of the Lord," Brad Giffin said Tuesday at a celebration of Jasmine's adoption on the lawn at Missoula Youth Homes.

Jasmine is the first child adopted through the Youth Homes' Dan Fox Homes for Kids program. The program looks for permanent, loving homes for school-age children who may also have emotional disturbances.

Jasmine is the beneficiary of a new way of thinking about foster care and adoption, from the federal level on down, said Erin Williams, parent recruiter for the program.

"It used to be that getting the child back to the birth home was the most important," Williams said. "But kids were languishing in foster care for years … Now, we're saying the older kids are important, too, and everybody deserves a permanent home."

New legislation, beginning with the 1997 federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, pushes looking at permanent families for children after they've been out of their homes for 12 months.

Warren Wright, regional administrator for Child and Family Services of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, said that about 2,200 children are in foster care in Montana on any given day. About 350 to 400 are in western Montana.

"We actually started on this idea about three years ago," he said, "believing adoption is the best thing for kids who can't return to their biological families."

Missoula Youth Homes is his department's first partnership with a private agency; the state has previously worked only with Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Social Services.

"I think you'll find we have five or six partners in the area within a year," he said.

District Judge John Larson said the new direction is especially good for older children. Finding families for babies is easier than finding homes for older children, he said.

"The real tragedy is when kids 'age out' in foster care," he said. "each child deserves a permanent, loving family. Even finding a foster family for some of these kids is hard … The foster rolls continued to grow, and kids never got out until they were 18.

Three bills in the recent state Legislature helped bolster the trend, he said.

Simon Fickinger, director of the Dan Fox Homes for Kids program, said that Missoula Youth Homes staff have learned during the agency's 20 years of providing group care that lingering in foster care is not good for kids.

"Group care is good," he said, "but families are really important."

The Giffins tried for seven years to have children before becoming foster parents with the goal of adopting. Five months ago, circumstances brought them a third child, 5-month-old Michael, bringing their family to five. They were foster parents to Jasmine's older sister, too, but her problems proved too much for a family setting. She and Jasmine's brother are at Yellowstone Treatment Center in Billings.

Jasmine will stay in touch with them, and she sees her birth mother.

"It's hard sometimes," said Kristine Giffin, "but we work through it. We feel it's important to have her birth family as part of her life."

Brad Giffin, who works as a sergeant in the Missoula County Sheriff's Department, wishes success for the Dan Fox Homes for Kids program.

"Anything anybody can do to support this program is needed," he said. '"I think we have to start in our own community."

Wednesday - 6/23/99

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