QPI is an approach to strengthening foster care by refocusing on quality parenting for all children in the child welfare system. The initiative, a strategy of the Youth Law Center, seeks to change the expectations of and support for foster parents and other caregivers, and thereby improve outcomes for children and youth.
While QPI has been implemented in more than 70 sites in 10 states over the past 10 years, Louisiana was the first to adopt it as a statewide approach when the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) launched QPI Louisiana in August 2016.
The national conference, the fifth of its kind, kicked off Tuesday morning with remarks from First Lady Donna Edwards, DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters and Youth Law Center Executive Director Jennifer Rodriguez. The conference will run through Wednesday. A complete agenda can be found here.
Video interviews with Louisiana stakeholders - birth parents, foster parents, caseworkers and others - talking about the impact of QPI on their lives will be shown during the conference. The videos also will be posted on the DCFS website.
Edwards, a former teacher and mother of three, has used her platform as First Lady to advocate for Louisiana's children, promoting music, arts and movement in schools and launching initiatives such as No Kid Hungry Louisiana and Louisiana Fosters.
"One meaningful way we can help take care of our foster children is by supporting the loving caregivers who provide for their needs and give them safe and nurturing environments in which to grow. That's why I launched the Louisiana Fosters program and why I believe strongly in the Quality Parenting Initiative. The two work hand-in-hand in helping us develop the kind of network that can improve our foster care system," said First Lady Donna Edwards.
Louisiana Fosters unites faith-based organizations, businesses, civic groups and the community with the state to ensure foster parents receive the support they need to care for the state's foster children. Likewise, QPI emphasizes a team approach, with agency staff, foster parents and birth parents working together in the best interests of the children.
"QPI is the essence of best practice. It's about building a bridge between the foster care system, foster parents and the biological parents with whom we hope to reunite our foster children. It's about creating better relationships and communication, sharing information and decision-making, and working toward continued improvements in the quality of care children receive, regardless of where they live," said DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters.
Louisiana's embrace of QPI represents a fundamental shift in the way the foster care system operates, raising expectations for and providing additional support to foster parents to parent the children in their care as their own, include biological parents more in their children's lives and improve communication among the caregivers and the agency.
"Every child deserves quality parenting every day, regardless of who provides their care," said Dr. Rhenda Hodnett, DCFS Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare. "QPI is about recruiting foster parents who will treat foster children as their own - taking them to medical visits, court hearings, ballgames and church functions - but also will work as a team with the birth parents, understanding that reunification is the primary goal. It's really about forming a stronger partnership, with everyone working together for the best interests of the child."
"QPI enables DCFS to propel improvements in the state's child welfare system overall," Hodnett said.
The Department's Child Welfare priorities include developing a competent, stable workforce invested in carrying out best practices; ensuring there are enough families willing and able to meet the unique needs of any child brought into foster care; improving outcomes for older youth, including the establishment of permanent connections; and improving technology for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Hodnett will speak at the conference Wednesday, detailing the ways in which QPI is helping to further those priorities.
QPI co-founder Carole Shauffer praised Louisiana's enthusiastic commitment to QPI and its principles.
"This current administration, the Governor's Office through the Secretary, has shown an extraordinary commitment to improving the lives of children by providing support, respect and encouragement to caregivers," Shauffer said.
"The goals Louisiana has set forth - improving relationships among caregivers, staff and birth parents, starting the reunification process immediately and ensuring changes for the child are dealt with in a developmentally appropriate way - address the major issues that had led to unnecessary extended stays in foster care and an inability of foster parents to care for their children adequately."
Shauffer said Louisiana's adoption of QPI also has tapped into a feeling of community, allowing individuals and groups both inside and outside the system to work together in ways they had always wanted but felt unable to do.
"I have personally been to several regions of the state and talked to caregivers, social workers, birth parents, and they consistently say they are now being given the ability to do what they have wanted to do all along - which is to help children heal from trauma to reach their potential and strengthen families," Shauffer said. "Louisiana has an amazing level of enthusiasm for QPI, starting with parents, youth, foster care workers, and going all the way to the administration and the judiciary. In fact, Louisiana has the highest level of commitment and participation by the judiciary of any state I've worked in. The involvement of Louisiana's community groups - ranging from the Resource Centers and mental health professionals to the faith community and volunteer groups - is also extraordinary.
"A key purpose of QPI is to strengthen relationships. Strong relationships make strong families, and Louisiana's sense of community makes those relationships possible," Shauffer said.
DCFS served 7,868 children in the foster care system in 2017. Some 2,559 of those children were reunified with their families last year. The Department also recruited and certified 825 new foster homes.