La. family services trying to expand foster care
Louisiana’s youth who are in foster care usually end up in a difficult spot once they turn 18. Because they are no longer eligible to receive care, they struggle to find a place to stay or simply aren’t ready to transition out of the program.
The Department of Children and Family Services stated that roughly 175 people age out of foster care every year.
But that appears to be changing, thanks to an effort by state lawmakers that seeks to raise the foster care eligibility age to 21.
One bill passed during the session arranged for a panel to study raising the qualifying age. Meanwhile, another approved bill by Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City, called for putting the change into effect now.
Gatti’s legislation was certainly a welcome surprise to officials with the DCFS. Department Secretary Marketa Walters told the Advocate that they “didn’t know anything about it.”
Studying a higher foster care eligibility age and implementing it at the same time takes some effort. DCFS is working with more than 120 people who can continue to get foster care under the new law. The department has brought in more than 20 additional case workers and $1 million.
The new law requires those older than 18 to be in high school or a degree program equal to it to continue to qualify for foster care. However, that still leaves about 50 who won’t be eligible to get the care after turning 18.
But the panel will look at potentially expanding that eligibility to match Title IV-E funding requirements. A federal program, Title IV-E adds upon local and state dollars dedicated to expanding foster care qualification past age 18. It also covers people who are employed, medically impaired, taking a job training program or enrolled in a post-secondary or vocational school. The panel will submit its recommendations by Feb. 1.
Right now, DCFS officials are holding public meetings throughout the state this month and into late September to talk about the effort. A meeting in Lake Charles took place Aug. 23.
The last thing young adults need is to lose their foster care at a critical time in their life. This panel, and the new law, can at least provide some relief for those who are worried about being on their own without the skills needed to make it.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Crystal Stevenson, John Guidroz, retired editor Jim Beam and retired staff writer Mike Jones.