Youth Court Judge Michael Dickinson honored for work with adoption
September 20, 2023
Harrison County Court and Youth Court Judge Michael Dickinson of Gulfport has been selected as an Angels in Adoption Honoree by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
Sen. Roger Wicker chose Judge Dickinson for the award. The Institute in a Sept. 14 letter announcing the selection said Judge Dickinson will be honored for his “tremendous work in the adoption, foster care and child welfare community.”
Judge Dickinson said, “I’m humbled and I’m honored and I’m grateful. But I will say that there are a lot of people and organizations in our community that are well deserving, and more deserving of the award than I am.”
The award will be presented during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., during a two-day Angels in Adoption Leadership Program on Capitol Hill Oct. 17 and 18.
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, founded in 2001, is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness about the millions of children worldwide in need of safe adoptive homes. Angel honorees are invited to Washington for a leadership program to participate in congressional meetings with federal policymakers, receive advocacy and educational training, meet with fellow advocates, and receive recognition at the Angels Celebration.
The honor comes as Judge Dickinson and his wife Siobhan are working to finalize their second adoption. They adopted another son on Sept. 10, 2021. He will soon turn 5 years old. They have three biological children, ages 14, 15 and 17.
How do they manage five children? Judge Dickinson credits his wife, who is a fifth grade science teacher. “She is superwoman.” The teenagers also are pretty good baby-sitters.
The Dickinsons have been foster parents for 10 children since 2016, some briefly, and some for most of the children’s lives. Their first adopted son came into their foster care at 20 days old. The soon to be adopted 6-year-old was placed in foster care with the Dickinsons at 3 days old. After two years, two months and 11 days, the child was reunited with his biological family, but came back into the custody of the Department of Child Protection Services after about two years. “He came back to us on Mother’s Day last year.”
Judge Dickinson thinks of providing foster care as “a calling.” He said, “It’s our responsibility as human beings to minister to the orphans in our community, and my wife and I take that calling very seriously.”
In 2015, Judge Dickinson, then working as an attorney in private practice, helped start a concerted effort to recruit and train foster parents through Michael Memorial Baptist Church in Gulfport. Called Rescue 100, the program sought to recruit, train and help willing foster parents become licensed with the Department of Human Services. The training and licensing had been a lengthy and unwieldy process. Rescue 100 organized a concentrated weekend of classes that expedited the training, without shortcuts. The first weekend training was held in April 2016.
The focus in child welfare in recent years shifted from foster care to reunification with biological family. “The focus in the world of child welfare has changed over the last several years to more of a ‘we need to fix these families’ instead of removing these kids out of their homes,” he said. That includes providing services and resources to assist parents and families in providing safe homes for their children.
As a result, there has been a decrease in the number of children in foster care. In August, there were 219 children in Child Protection Services custody in Harrison County. That compares to 792 Harrison County children in CPS custody in January 2019.
But, Judge Dickinson said, “ There is always going to be a need for foster parents.”
They have to be willing and able to care for sibling groups and children with special needs.
“All come in with some level of trauma. You rarely know about health or mental issues until you get to know the children,” Judge Dickinson said. The soon-to-be-5-year-old was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some of his siblings have developmental issues, so they were expecting the diagnosis. He is one of the youngest of about a dozen siblings, most of whom wound up in foster care.
Judge Dickinson was elected in 2018 and took the bench as a Harrison County Court Judge handling Youth Court matters in January 2019. He sought specialized training to provide effective support and treatment for at-risk children, becoming a Trust Based Relational Intervention Practitioner through Texas Christian University in 2021. He was appointed in 2022 by the Mississippi Supreme Court to serve on the Commission on Children’s Justice. Earlier this year, he was appointed by the Supreme Court to the Mississippi Task Force on Foster Care and Adoption, which was created by the 2023 Legislature via Senate Bill 2384. He was also chosen this year to serve on the Judicial Leadership Council for National CASA/GAL.
Judge Dickinson earned a Bachelor of Accountancy degree from Mississippi State University and a law degree from Mississippi College School of Law. He served in the U.S. Navy in Japan aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Independence. He had a civil law practice in Gulfport 2005 through 2018.