In 2018, Louisiana was among the handful of states with no offer of foster care support beyond age 18 for youth who became adults in the system.
Since then, the state has moved quickly through incremental steps toward extended foster care, and is now poised to begin a robust expansion to age 21 that will tie older youth to specially-trained case managers stationed around the state.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed legislation last week that was crafted based on recommendations from a task force that determined raising the age to 21 would improve outcomes for foster youth.
Senate Bill 109 was championed by Sen. Regina Barrow (D), who applauded the governor for his approval of the bill.
“This is the right thing to do,” Barrow said, in a release from the Department of Children and Family Services. “The transition into adulthood isn’t easy for anybody, but just imagine what foster youth have had to endure by the time they reach 18. They continue to need someone in their corner. And that’s what this is about.”
A bill passed in 2018 built the bones of an extended care program, but made it contingent on the decision of appropriators to fund it. This was a small-scale extension for teens who were still pursuing their high school graduation or the attainment of an equivalency certificate. A youth could elect to remain in care until they graduated or turned 21, whichever came first.
Barrow’s bill greatly expands the scope of extended care to include youth who are pursuing college degrees or employment, or suffer from serious disabilities, putting the state’s plan in line for federal funding eligibility. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, passed in 2008, permits states to use the Title IV-E child welfare entitlement for extended care if the plan is approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) said it expects extended care to cost about $7.8 million per year. It anticipates the federal share of this will be $4.1 million.
“Once the program is at full capacity, we project we will have somewhere between 195-220 youth in extended foster care each year,” said Heidi Rogers, public information officer for DCFS, in an e-mail to The Chronicle of Social Change.
Forty-seven states now offer some form of extended foster care – only Delaware, New Mexico and Oklahoma do not. Louisiana would become the 29th state approved for IV-E reimbursement under Fostering Connections, according to a database maintained by the Juvenile Law Center (JLC).
“It is very promising that Louisiana has made some very smart investments in transition age youth that bode well for the success of their extended care program,” said JLC Senior Attorney Jenny Pokempner, in a recent column. “While extended care is meant to provide support as young people transition to adulthood, the goal remains connecting young people with family so they have the lifelong support and love that all youth and adults needs as they grow up.”
Louisiana is using a partnership with Tennessee-based nonprofit Youth Villages to leverage some early funding for the extension and to staff it with workers focused on older youth. DCFS will tie the organization’s YVLifeSet, which links transition-aged youth with specialists who help them transition into independent adulthood.
YVLifeSet specialists have small caseloads — 8 to 10 clients each — and meet with the youth at least once a week, and are available 24/7, according to Youth Villages. They help young people deal with things like securing stable housing, learning money management and establishing medical coverage. For youth aging out with children, specialists help them learn parenting skills.
In Louisiana, Youth Villages will train 21 DCFS staff – 17 caseworkers and four supervisors – to serve as the YVLifeSet case managers for all of the youth who elect to remain in care past 18. Youth Villages is committing $3 million over three years to pilot this plan, matched by state funds.
“It really is a blended approach in a more intensive way,” said Katja Russell, managing director of partner operations. “These youths will be seen weekly at the least, and often times more than that.”
The expansion of YVLifeSet is backed by a commitment of up to $200 million over 11 years from Blue Meridian Partners, a group of large foundations convened by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. Three years ago, the group announced several big bets on expanding youth-serving programs, and has expanded its portfolio since.
Louisiana DCFS will be the first site to set the YVLifeSet case manager as the agency caseworker for a youth in care. Youth Villages also trained agency workers in Washington, D.C., for the initiative, but those managers work alongside a regular foster care caseworker.
Louisiana is also involved in another Blue Meridian-funded venture focused on older youth in foster care. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, operated by the Dave Thomas for Adoption, trains adoption caseworkers who specialize in finding permanency for older kids in the foster care system. Louisiana was in the first phase of the initiative’s expansion, which also included Kentucky, Washington, New York and North Carolina.
The YVLifeSet case managers will be located in four locations around the state, with most of the staff clustered near New Orleans and Baton Rouge.