BATON ROUGE - The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is launching a new recruitment campaign for foster parents for teens.
The campaign, launching amid National Foster Care Month, is part of the Department's ongoing commitment to improve outcomes for youth in foster care by increasing permanency and connections before they transition to adulthood.
Teens account for about 20 percent of children in care in Louisiana, but fewer than 5 percent of non-relative foster homes provide placements for them.
"When there aren't enough foster homes available for teens in their own communities, it means leaving their schools, friends, activities, after-school jobs - everything familiar to them - to enter a system that is also unfamiliar and disorienting," said DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters. "Having foster parents who are open to making that transition smoother, and who are invested in helping our teens make and maintain connections within their communities, is so important to ensuring their success in the world."
Without those needed connections and support, youth who transition from foster care to adulthood typically experience very poor outcomes at a much higher rate than their peers in the general population, research shows. Those outcomes include reduced rates of completing high school, post-secondary and vocational programs and increased rates of homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, unemployment, early pregnancy and dependency on public assistance.
The desire to improve outcomes was a driving force behind the SCR 10 Task Force's recommendation that Louisiana extend foster care to age 21 for all youth in care, not just those who are pursuing their high school diploma or equivalency. The more time youth have to receive services, learn life skills and make connections, the better their outcomes will be, the Task Force on Extending the Age of Foster Care to 21 found.
"Everyone, especially teens, wants to feel special, wanted and needed," said Dr. Rhenda Hodnett, DCFS Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare. "A strong family provides stability, consistency and support as teens grow and develop, increasing their hope for the future and building their self-esteem and confidence. We have amazing teens who need a strong, encouraging family to help them reach their fullest potential!"
DCFS will distribute the new brochures, posters and informational cards - printed through a generous donation from One Heart NOLA - in communities throughout the state, on social media and the Department's website to highlight the urgent need for foster homes for teens.
The campaign will be incorporated into the Department's overall efforts to attract and retain foster homes for children and youth in care across the state. The need for foster homes is great in every region and at every age level, but the need for homes for teens is especially critical.
DCFS also continues to work with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, whose Wendy's Wonderful Kids recruiters work throughout the state seeking placement and permanency options for youth, as well as large sibling groups and medically fragile children. Through this generous partnership, DCFS is adding a recruiter to work specifically with those youth ages 18 to 21 needing permanency in their lives.
DCFS provides training and support to foster caregivers, and each teen has a team of professionals within the child welfare system to support them and their caregivers. Caregivers are reimbursed for costs related to living expenses for the teen, and the teen has a medical card to cover medical expenses.
The Department also created a website, YouthLink.la.gov, where teens and their caregivers can learn more about the resources available to them. Designed with youth in mind, YouthLink provides a guide to the child welfare system and links to information and resources on topics like safety and relationships, health and well-being, housing and finance, education and jobs, legal and youth advice.
For more information about becoming a foster parent, visit www.LouisianaFosters.la.gov.
For copies of the campaign materials, visit www.dcfs.la.gov/TeenCaregivers.