Harrison County

Display at mall highlights children looking for ‘forever families’

Leah Hill of Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth sets up the Mississippi Heart Gallery at Church of the King in Biloxi on Nov. 17, 2016. The display will be at Edgewater Mall in Biloxi, Nov. 20-28.
Leah Hill of Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth sets up the Mississippi Heart Gallery at Church of the King in Biloxi on Nov. 17, 2016. The display will be at Edgewater Mall in Biloxi, Nov. 20-28. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

Imagine bouncing from foster home to foster home without anyone being willing to say, “Yes, I love you enough to adopt you.”

It’s the smile and the eyes.

They are full of love, but they need someone to share their love with.

They are the eyes of the children featured in the Mississippi Heart Gallery on display at Edgewater Mall beginning Sunday.

These children are in the care of the Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services who are eligible to be adopted because their parents have lost custodial rights.

There are 65 children in the state that are available for adoption. The display features 26 of them, said Tana Walker of Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth, “most of those are older children, large sibling groups or children with major medical or mental health needs.”

Twelve of the children are in South Mississippi.

Southern Christian Services assembled the portraits in July with money from an adoption recruitment and retention grant from CPS, said Marcus Davenport, CPS’ bureau director of permanency support services.

The program has already met with success, he said. Twenty of the 65 children have been matched with potential families since July.

That includes one group of six siblings.

“It seems to be very successful,” Walker said of the program. “We’ve had lots and lots of contacts regarding children in the Heart Gallery.”

“Older children are typically harder to place, so this program has helped us to highlight them,” Davenport said.

Two of the children are 17, and “want those family connections” before they age out of the system, said Leah Hill of SCS. “There is still a desire to have that family” they can call their own.

The photos in the exhibit can also be viewed on the SCS Facebook page and at the the CPS web site. There are 29 children featured in the CPS online gallery.

There are 5,763 children currently under CPS care. Of those, 468 children are available for adoption, Davenport said. The children featured in the gallery have agreed to have their pictures displayed.

They range in age from 9 to 17 and most are 13 or older, Davenport said.

The Heart Gallery concept began in New Mexico in 2001. It has since spread across the country. Mississippi has had one since 2013.

“We wanted to continue the tradition of the original Heart Gallery,” Hill said.

The gallery has been a “huge success” since they have taken over, she said. “Involving the children with their own recruitment is the key.”

John Fitzhugh: 228-896-2193, @JFitzhughPhoto

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