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BATON ROUGE - Gov. John Bel Edwards joined Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters, legislative leaders, former foster youth and child advocates today in launching efforts to extend foster care in Louisiana to age 21.
The issue gained momentum this spring when the Legislature passed two bills on the topic – Sen. Regina Barrow's SCR 10 (part of the Governor's Legislative Agenda) to form a task force to study extending foster care to age 21, and Sen. Ryan Gatti's SB 129 (Act 649), which extended the age of foster care through high school graduation or until the age of 21, whichever occurs first.
The SCR 10 Panel on Extending the Age of Foster Care kicked off its work today. The panel will review work underway in other states and design a program to best benefit the approximately 175 Louisiana youth each year who "age out" of the foster care system when they turn 18. The task force will issue its first report to the Legislature in February.
"Today's launch is an important statement about our commitment to the children in our care," said Gov. Edwards. "We have a responsibility to ensure they have the foundations they need to gain the best possible start in life. That means connecting them with housing and other resources, helping them form permanent relationships with caring, competent adults and providing access to the education and skills development necessary to becoming productive citizens. We're grateful to have the support of so many diverse stakeholders, because it will take all of us working together to build an effective plan. We're also fortunate to benefit from the guidance and expertise of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, our partner in this critical work."
Extending the age of foster care to 21 was one of the chief recommendations of a prior task force formed under child welfare legislation that passed in 2016.
"Louisiana has made significant progress toward the recommendations of the 2016 panel, including increasing former foster youth's access to health care and education," said Walters. "Our next challenge is to implement a comprehensive plan that empowers young people and helps them build the productive lives they deserve. We're fortunate to have representatives of the Casey Foundation to help us identify the best path forward."
Nearly 30 other states have extended the age of foster care. Evette Jackson of the Annie E. Casey Foundation Child Welfare Strategy Group urged task force members to learn from the successes and challenges of other states' approaches and to make recommendations "for molding Louisiana's approach into a model for the nation."
The enactment of SB 129 "provides the opportunity to immediately assist many young people in completing high school who have reached age 18 in foster care," Jackson said, noting there are federal funds available to support the initiative. "Our efforts to help these young people cannot stop at simply providing some of them additional time to remain in foster care. It requires a comprehensive approach to helping all of them succeed – similar to how you would help any of your own children."
"The Annie E. Casey Foundation is very excited to have the opportunity to partner with you in this critical work," Jackson said. "Casey has had the privilege of supporting some of your child welfare reform efforts nearly a decade ago, and we were so pleased to be invited back to assist in your efforts now around extending foster care to age 21."
Click here for Kate Gaughen's presentation to the task force on behalf of the Casey Foundation.