By John Bel Edwards, Governor of Louisiana
As governor, I have many responsibilities, but none more critical or closer to my heart than the safety and well-being of Louisiana’s children.
That is why I have taken particular interest in Louisiana’s efforts over the past few years to improve outcomes for children in foster care and to find permanent, loving homes for more children and youth. That’s where the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and its signature program, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids®, has played such a pivotal role. The Foundation’s investment continues to reap benefits for Louisiana’s children.
I was extraordinarily blessed to be raised in a family with a loving mother and loving father and seven siblings. We had everything in the world that we needed.
Louisiana should try to extend the same circle of comfort and care to as many children as possible, especially those in foster care.
Our goal in foster care is to strengthen families to prevent children from entering care in the first place. But when such outcomes aren’t possible, we need loving families to step in — and this is an area where we have made incredible strides. The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has celebrated three consecutive years of record adoptions from foster care, with significant increases in 2018 for siblings and teenagers. Over the past year alone, almost 31 percent more youth ages 13-17 were adopted from foster care – the highest increase of any age group. The eight Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters working across Louisiana have been essential to this success.
Three years ago, Louisiana began transforming its vision of foster care and adoption with the launch of the Quality Parenting Initiative, a team approach to foster care that encourages birth parents, foster parents and DCFS staff to work together. The focus is on ensuring quality parenting for all children in the foster care system, no matter where they live or who is responsible for their care. The results are better outcomes and less trauma for the children, families and caseworkers.
My wife, Donna, and I have three children of our own, but we understand our responsibility in helping to take care of children in foster care. In fact, Donna joined forces with DCFS to start Louisiana Fosters, a statewide network of nonprofits, faith-based organizations and businesses working hand-in-hand with the state to support foster caregivers and the children in their care. The initiative operates through the philosophy that the children in foster care are Louisiana’s children. They belong to all of us, and it’s our collective responsibility to protect and care for them. Through Louisiana Fosters, communities throughout the state have mobilized to support and improve the foster care system and the families it serves.
Now we’re expanding our efforts to focus on youth who turn 18 while still in care, and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is part of this effort.
As any parent of a young adult knows, they still need love, attention and support after they turn 18. In fact, they often need it even more. They need to know that someone is in their corner to guide them through life’s challenges, to celebrate their triumphs and make sure adulthood is something they can reach in a good fashion. We owe them that.
This summer, Louisiana passed a law extending the age of foster care to 21, allowing youth to receive services that aid in their transition to adulthood. DCFS worked with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to develop the approach and is joining with national nonprofit Youth Villages to implement its YVLifeSet case management model, the only proven model in the country. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids is playing an essential role, with a ninth recruiter focused solely on permanency for older youth ages 18 to 21.
We have a responsibility to ensure these young people 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 become productive citizens.
Extending the age of foster care to 21 will go down as one of the most important statements we’ve made about Louisiana’s commitment to the children in our care. It recognizes our responsibility to these young people and our belief in their future. To understand the impact, you only have to listen to former foster youth describe the effect that “aging out” of care at 18 had on their lives.
As one former foster youth told the Select Special Committee on Women and Children when she testified about the extended foster care bill in June, “You may never know how many lives you will change because of it. But trust me, you will change lives.”
The Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program is playing a vital role in our efforts to transform Louisiana’s approach to foster care and adoption to ensure that every child has the opportunity to grow up in a safe, loving and permanent home.