Around 4,000 kids are currently in foster care in the state of Louisiana. Some of those kids will go on to find forever homes, whether that be adoption or reunification with biological family. Other kids bounce around from home to home before aging out of the system at 18-years-old.
That’s what happened to Baton Rouge resident April Hill. She is a young adult now, but recounts the day she entered the foster care system while she was a toddler. Hill said it all started when she was injured by the hands of her biological mother.
“I was told that she picked me up as far as her arms would reach in the air and she dropped me on my face and she picked me up and she dropped me on my face again. It just repeated that over and over until eventually I was forced to sit in the chair and she tried to kill me in the chair,” Hill said.
She said she was taken away from one unsafe home and put into another, this time her first foster care placement.
“A lot of things that aren’t supposed to happen in custody, happened,” Hill said.
Every foster care child has a case worker, designed to look out for the child. Hill, however, said her case worker at her first foster care placement failed her.
“I can count on one hand and not use all of my fingers how many times my social worker came to that placement,” Hill said.
She’s not the only one who faced a similar experience.
“One of the reasons my foster parents got away with what they were doing to us for so long is because I maybe saw my worker once every six months, maybe,” Leanna McCrea said.
McCrea now works as a case worker in Louisiana, inspired by her own experience growing up in the system in Washington State. She entered the system as a teen.
“In those five years, I experienced 10 different placements,” McCrea said.
Hill said she lived in at least 15 different homes before aging out of the system on her 18th birthday.
While Hill said she has some bad memories of her time in foster care, there were good moments too. She recounts living in a foster home that was set to shut down on Christmas when the other kids were going to go home to celebrate with their families. Hill did not have that option, so one of her foster care workers brought Hill to her family’s celebration.
“I got to sit at a table and have a real Christmas dinner with a family. It’s one of my best memories as a kid. That’s the first time I felt like I was apart of something. It was beautiful,” Hill said.
McCrea also recounts a holiday memory. On her first birthday since entering foster care, her foster family held a party for her. The problem was she had just moved and didn’t know who to invite. She showed up to the party to find her case worker showed up and brought her son, so that she would have people to celebrate her birthday with.
“It meant the world to me that she took the time to do that. It told me that I was worth something,” McCrea said.
Typically when a teen turns 18, they age out of the foster care system. At the time McCrea aged out in Washington State, she had the ability to opt back in, which she did. The last foster family she was with ended up being a permanent connection for her. It was a place where she returned to on breaks in college.
“I realized if I’m going to be anything or do anything, it’s going to be because I do it, so I buckled down,” McCrea.
McCrea went on to get a degree in social work and started teaching parenting classes, before she became a case worker for the state.
Unfortunately, when Hill aged out of the system at 18, things were not easy. At first, she went on to college at Southeastern Louisiana State University. At the time, she was getting money from the state, but cuts to the foster care system meant no more stipend. Without the funds, she left school and moved back to Baton Rouge.
“I was homeless a couple of times because I don’t have anyone to fall back on,” Hill said.
Hill is back on her feet, working hard for the life she has. However, she said it is scary knowing there is nobody she can fall back on she hits a rough patch.
“Everything I have, I got it on my own,” Hill said.
Hill and McCrea opened up about their experience in the system, highlighting some areas they feel have room for improvement. We checked in with the state to find three key areas the department is working to improve. Catch part two of “Fostering Louisiana” Thursday on Local 33 at Ten.