In “Fostering Louisiana” part one, two women shared the story of their time in foster care. In this part two, the Louisiana Department of Child and Family Services highlighted three main initiatives the department is taking in regards to foster care.
DCFS Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare Rhenda Hodnett said the department is trying to change the resources for older youth. When foster kids turn 18, they are no longer eligible to be in the state’s foster care system. Sometimes, those teens don’t know where they are going to go to bed that night.
That was a worry former foster teen April Hill recounts.
“When I turned 18, it was basically just bye,” Hill said. “When I was aging out, it wasn’t very smooth. It definitely could have been smoother.”
Hodnett said the department is working to make sure that no child ages out of foster care without a permanent connection. She said that will not always have an end result of adoption, but the department wants to make sure the teen has at least one former foster parent they know they can turn to for support.
Hodnett also said the department is starting a brand new initiative in the state, Open Table, to get the community involved in helping these teens.
“Open Table is a faith-based initiative and it recruits members of the congregation to come together around a table and actually commit to a year-long support of a young person who will be aging out of foster care within the next year,” Hodnett said.
The department also partners with HP Serve to provide life skills classes for teens in the system.
“We take them to businesses and universities to show them there is another possibility out there,” HP Serve Executive Director Claudia Berry said.
DCFS is also changing the tide on relationships between the department and the foster youth’s biological family.
“Quality parenting initiative is a national movement, a new philosophy about how agencies work with as true partners for the best interest of the children,” Hodnett said.
That initiative places emphasis on reunification.
“75 percent of children who come into foster care are returned to their family. That’s either to their biological parents or custody is granted to another relative,” Hodnett said.
The third big push of the department is about attracting the best people to the department. Hodnett said it is a difficult job, but an important one.
“We are literally making decisions about the life or death of a child every day,” Hodnett said.
Leanna McCrea is a case worker for the state of Louisiana. She got involved in this field because of her own experience going through the foster care system in Washington State.
“I live for the impact that I could have in another foster youth’s life because, as a former foster youth myself, I know what it’s like to feel like nobody cares,” McCrea said. “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, but it’s easily the most rewarding.”