Louisiana Fosters is a statewide initiative launched by First Lady Donna Edwards in August 2017 to inspire and mobilize faith, nonprofit, business and service communities to partner with the state to bolster support for foster parents and the children in their care.
The First Lady's initiative builds upon DCFS' implementation of the Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI), an approach to foster care that emphasizes teamwork among foster parents, birth parents and agency staff. Louisiana Fosters seeks to strengthen that framework by connecting foster parents and caregivers with the support systems they need in their communities.
In August, the First Lady brought together stakeholders from across the state at the Governor's Mansion to hear what some DCFS partners already were doing to support the state's foster care system. Edwards then charged those in attendance to mobilize and use those inspiring messages to seek out ways of helping the foster families in their communities.
"Not everyone can be a foster parent, but everyone can do something," Edwards said at the time.
Since the First Lady issued her call to action, many groups both large and small have joined the Louisiana Fosters movement, either by starting new projects and ministries or by expanding existing efforts into new areas. A robust list of partners offering resources for foster caregivers is now available on the Louisiana Fosters website at www.LouisianaFosters.la.gov/Resources.html.
Examples of some of the new and expanding efforts include:
- The Board of Laity of the Louisiana Annual Conference of United Methodist Churches recently adopted The Open Table, the Bread or Stones Campaign and Louisiana Methodist Children's Home (LMCH) as their primary areas of ministry focus over the next three years. These three ministries will be promoted throughout Louisiana Methodist Churches in efforts to recruit therapeutic foster homes for LMCH, regular foster homes for DCFS, churches to support foster care and child well-being through the Bread or Stones Campaign, and churches to engage in The Open Table to support youth aging out of foster care.
- The Open Table is a faith-based model designed to create groups of volunteers who make a year-long commitment to act – through relationship – as a team of life specialists, encouragers and advocates to help a foster youth set and achieve goals and transition more seamlessly to independent living. LMCH's Field Development Officer, the Rev. Darryl Tate, along with Open Table leaders and DCFS, organized and hosted informational meetings in every region of the state in March and April to promote The Open Table model. So far, 30 churches across Louisiana have committed to sponsoring a "table" when implementation begins in their region. Implementation already has begun in Monroe and Baton Rouge regions, and efforts to implement the program in Covington are well underway.
- The Bread or Stones Campaign, sponsored by the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, is hosting meetings throughout the state to focus on child well-being and, specifically, children in foster care and youth aging out of foster care. Churches from all denominations are invited to attend and learn about the need for foster homes as well as specific ways churches can support children and youth and the families caring for them. The most recent informational meeting was held April 24 in Houma, where more than 70 people attended and several churches expressed interest in developing foster family support ministries. Bread or Stones leaders are working with the churches to help establish those ministries.
- Crossroads NOLA and James Storehouse of Covington, along with the First Lady and DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters, held an event in Covington in March to promote Louisiana Fosters and encourage engagement from additional churches and groups in the region. As a result, several churches have expressed interest in The Open Table model, and eight churches have committed to supporting the foster care system in collaboration with Crossroads NOLA.
- Unite Ministries is a new nonprofit formed by faith community partners in the Shreveport Region to provide "fosterships" - scholarships to cover extra-curricular activities for children and youth in foster care so they can experience normal childhood activities like sports, dance or art lessons. The organization, which officially launches June 1, also will focus on supporting at-risk youth in foster care through mentoring and assisting with physical needs to help youth transitioning to adulthood. The organization is currently focused on developing partnerships with local churches and business leaders to support foster children in the Shreveport area, but plans to expand statewide. Unite Ministries founder and president Tony Streetman said his goal is to make Louisiana "the most foster-friendly state in the nation."
- Project 2.5 Plus is a ministry of White's Ferry Road Church of Christ in the Monroe Region. Founded by foster parents Anthony and Ann Bartley, the project seeks to promote and support QPI in the Monroe Region by providing a way for the community to support foster families. Launched in March, the ministry's services include: hosting the Monroe Region Foster Care Support Group; providing a Foster Care Support Center that offers free clothing, furniture, school supplies, baby items and other goods to foster parents in the Monroe Region; and meeting other needs of foster children and the families who support them on an as-needed basis.
- Foster Friends Acadiana, in the Lafayette Region, has hosted a Christmas party and birthday parties for children in foster care for several years. However, understanding the importance of QPI and the First Lady's call to action for community support, the group expanded its efforts by initiating other projects, such as an instrument drive to collect new and used musical instruments for foster children who want to play in their school band and a stuffed animal drive for DCFS' foster celebration Fun Day in May. The group also recruited sponsors for a local foster youth who made the cheerleading squad for her senior year, covering the girl's cheer camp and uniform costs, plus hiring a professional photographer to take her senior portraits. Foster Friends also is planning its first adoption recruitment event this July, for prospective adoptive parents to spend time with foster children available for adoption in the hopes of helping them find their forever homes.
- Fostering Community, in the Alexandria Region, has sponsored the Heart Gallery of Alexandria since 2016. Last year, the group also established The Foster Care Closet and a "hygiene closet" at the Alexandria regional office to care for the immediate needs of children when they are first placed in the state's care. Fostering Community also recently obtained a grant from the Rotary Club of Alexandria to provide school uniforms and supplies for the upcoming school year for children in foster care.
- City of Lake Charles, through the SWLA Foster Care Coalition it created in partnership with community groups and AmeriCorps, received a grant last fall that it uses to offer monthly training sessions for foster parents, birth parents and agency staff. The Coalition also uses its website to recruit foster families for older youth and to provide a directory of resources available for children and families.
"We are so grateful for the efforts of all our partners, who are working to make sure foster parents and caregivers across the state have the support systems they need to care for our foster children," said DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters. "If you think your church, your nonprofit or your business might be able to get involved, we encourage you to reach out to us."