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Child welfare program launched

Last Modified: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 9:16 AM

By Nichole Osinski / American Press

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has created a new child welfare initiative, the “Faith in Families” program.

The program was launched with three main goals in mind: reduce the number of children in foster care; reduce the time spent in foster care; and create permanent family connections after leaving the system.

The initiative was announced Monday at meetings in Lake Charles and Lafayette.

DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier said the agency has a two-year time span in which they want to accomplish these goals.

By 2015 she said they hope to reduce the number of children in foster care by 1,000 and ensure that 95 percent of the children returning home do not return to foster care.

“We know that kids that linger in care are at risk,” Sonnier said. “We really looked at what would make the biggest difference in the lives of the children we serve.”

DCFS will work toward helping 85 percent of children exit foster care within 24 months of entering the system. This would be achieved through reunification with their family or an adoption. They also want to increase the amount of children in foster care adopted to 50 percent — the national standard is 37 percent.

Within this goal, DCFS will also try to reunite 75.2 percent of children with their family within 12 months.

Sonnier said once children leave the foster system, they are at a higher risk for homelessness and unemployment. This is why it is vital to create permanent connections, such as direct relatives or legal guardians.

According to the most recent Louisiana Foster Care data, as of June, 30, 2012, children who were reunited with their families were in foster care for an average of about 11 months. Sonnier said it can be hard to find homes for adolescents, special needs children or siblings who want to stay together.

Child Welfare Policy Advisor Karen Herbert said many families are intimidated at the thought of fostering or adopting a child. She said part of Faith in Families initiative is about helping families through the process.

“They think they’ll be out there alone without support but we provide a lot of training and a lot of one-on-one support with the worker assigned to the family,” Herbert said.

In Louisiana, the DCFS found there are 4,031 children in foster care. Sonnier said out of this number there are roughly 2,000 foster placements — a significant lack of homes for children.

The program will phase in over three years with initiatives directly affecting the foster care system beginning this year. The next two years will be spent maintaining and improving the program.

Communications and Governmental Affairs Director Trey Williams said they are also working on not only putting a face with the children but a personality. He said there are already pictures and profile descriptions of children but they also want to use video to make more personal connections.

The initiative also includes partnering with different agencies to create awareness and help assist in reaching the goals. Sonnier said each additional measure is a step toward creating a better future outside of foster care.

“We really want it to be a consistent belief throughout all of our services that a permanent connection is the solution,” she said. “That foster care is a temporary placement and not a destination.”

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