PIERRE – Jessie and Katie Harris’s home is a little fuller these days. It’s noisy, it’s busy, but it’s blessed.
The Winner, SD couple have seven children under one roof, including three boys who have been adopted through foster care. Six-year-old Telon and 5-year-old Tobias were adopted in 2020. Their biological brother, Israel, who will be 3 in March, legally became part of the family just this month.
“You just make it work,” Katie Harris said. “Things are busy, but these boys needed a home. They needed someone to love them and care for them.”
The Harris family will be joining South Dakota Governor Krisit Noem and lighting the Christmas trees at the Grand Lighting Ceremony today at Christmas at the Capitol. Governor Noem has made recruiting foster and adoptive families one of her priorities, proclaiming November as Adoption Month in the state.
During the month, which is also celebrated nationally, individuals, families, businesses, private and public organizations, states, and the government all celebrate adoption and encourage it as a positive way to grow families. In fiscal year 2023, 242 South Dakota children were placed with an adoptive family through the Department of Social Services. There are currently over 100 children and teens in foster care in South Dakota in need of forever homes.
“Southy Dakota is a leader to our nation in how we prioritize families and help children who are the most vulnerable,” she said. “Every child deserves love, and every child deserves a home. The Harris family understands that, and they are truly making a difference in the lives of so many. I hope their story inspires others to help our foster children and families as well.”
The Harris family is an example of a family who felt the call to foster, received children into their home for fostering, and then choose to adopt when the need for permanency became clear. When they first became licensed for foster care, the Harris’ had three biological children at home. Throughout the seven years they’ve been licensed, 30 foster youth have been through their doors, including the three Native American brothers they adopted. Israel was placed with them when he was 3-days-old. The family added another biological child about a year and a half ago.
“It was really important to us to keep (the brothers) together,” Katie Harris said. “Their mom reached out when she was pregnant. We had a household of small children and it’s nothing we planned on, but it was important we make it work. He was family already.”
Katie Harris is herself Native American and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. The Harris story also exemplifies how two DSS priorities are being upheld: keeping siblings together and placing Native American children with Native American families.
“Those are their connections,” said Nancy Tichy, DSS family services specialist who has worked with the Harris family and many others in her 35 years with the department. “Children need to feel connected to their family. It provides a feeling of safety for those kids. With Katie and Jessie, these boys are going to learn about aspects of their Native American culture.”
Katie Harris also credits a good relationship with Telon, Tobias, and Israel’s biological mother as a contributing factor to the boys adjusting well to their home. While attempts to reunify or place Israel with a relative failed, Katie Harris said they will always be supportive of reunification efforts.
“I think a lot of the parents who have their kids removed don’t have a good support system,” she said. “It’s not just supporting the children, but supporting the parents, too. Sometimes you have to look past some of the bad choices they’ve made. I can almost always see the love a parent has for a child. That bond is there.”
While the size of the Harris family and licensing requirements now limit the family from receiving any more foster placements e, they do occasionally take emergency placements, which are needed. In South Dakota, the primary need is for families willing to foster and/or adopt are brothers and sisters together, older youth (ages 10-18), children requiring specialized care, and Native American families available to adopt Native American children.
“Even if you just help one kid, you’ve made a huge difference,” Katie Harris said. “Adoption doesn’t always happen and it can be hard to say goodbye. But if it’s hard on you, you did it right.”
The South Dakota Department of Social Services is dedicated to strengthening families to foster health, wellbeing, and independence. For more information, please visit dss.sd.gov.