In 2018, 151 Louisiana youth "aged out" of foster care as soon as they reached age 18. But that will not happen anymore as of Thursday.
Governor John Bel Edwards signed legislation to extend foster care to age 21 for all youth in care on their 18th birthday.
Youth who have already "aged out" of foster care will have the opportunity to enroll in the program.
Senate Bill 109, authored by Sen. Regina Barrow and included in the Governor's legislative package, follows through on the recommendations of a legislative task force, which found that extending the age of care would help improve outcomes for foster youth.
The voluntary program would allow the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to provide intensive services to aid in youths' transition to adulthood. Studies have found, without additional support, youth who exit foster care at age 18 typically experience poor outcomes at a higher rate than their peers in the general population, including reduced rates of completing high school, post-secondary or vocational programs, and increased rates of homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, unemployment, early pregnancy and dependence on public assistance.
Former foster youth, serving as interns through the Louisiana Institute for Children in Families, testified in the Senate Select Committee on Women and Children, chaired by Barrow, about the impact that the continued support of extended foster care would have had on their lives.
"This is the right thing to do," Barrow said. "The transition into adulthood isn't easy for anybody, but just imagine what foster youth have had to endure by the time they reach 18. They continue to need someone in their corner. And that's what this is about."
In 2018, Louisiana began its effort to extend foster care to 21 with the passage of Sen. Ryan Gatti's SB 129 (Act 649), which extended care to 21 for anyone in high school or working toward an equivalent credential. After working with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and studying work underway around the U.S., the Task Force on Extending the Age of Foster Care to 21 recommended expanding the program to all youth who reach age 18 while in foster care and have not year turned 21 and who:
Are enrolled in a post-secondary vocational or educational program;
Are enrolled in a program or activity designed to promote or remove barriers to employment;
Are employed at least 80 hours per month; or
Have a medical condition that renders the young adult incapable of engaging in any of these activities.
"We made history today," DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said. "This is going to change the lives of countless youth in foster care in Louisiana."
Louisiana continues to work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, as well as nonprofit partners Youth Villages and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, to implement its extended foster care program.
Youth Villages awarded the state a $3 million grant to implement the Youth Villages YVLifeSet model, the only proven case management program like it in the country. The program uses highly trained case workers with small caseloads to provide high-intensity services, including at least one face-to-face session with youth per week. Case workers help youth achieve their education, employment, housing, permanency and independent living skills.
The Dave Thomas Foundation's Wendy's Wonderful Kids recruiters work with DCFS throughout the state seeking placement and permanency options for youth, as well as large sibling groups and medically fragile children. Through this partnership, DCFS is adding a recruiter to work specifically with those youth ages 18 to 21 needing permanency in their lives.
Find more information about Louisiana's extended foster care program at www.dcfs.la.gov.