La. foster care system to undergo new initiative

Louisiana unveils new 'Faith in Families' initiati...

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Lasting connections for foster children is one of the new goals for Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services, Secretary Suzy Sonnier said Thursday in Alexandria.

A new initiative the department is rolling out, called “Faith in Families,” looks to safely reduce the number of children in foster care, decrease the amount of time children spend in the system and ensure that each child has a permanent connection when they leave foster care, Sonnier said.

“Children deserve strong and loving families. This initiative will bring positive and life-changing impacts to children in our foster care system,” she said.

Last year more than 7,500 children were in the foster care program in Louisiana, according to DCFS statistics. About 3,710 were discharged from foster care during the year and about 3,180 children were placed in foster care in 2012. There are currently 4,031 children in foster care across the state.

Additionally, DCFS plans to work aggressively to improve permanent connections for youth on the verge of aging out of foster care.

DCFS, Sonnier said, “will work to identify family or other community members who can provide lasting relationships for young people ensuring that no children exit the foster care system without someone to call family.”

Research shows that children who age out of foster care without a permanent connection face significant challenges including homelessness, unemployment, mental health and substance abuse issues and involvement with the criminal justice system.

“Life-long connections are key to ensuring that these children have a place to live, stay in school and make positive decisions about their lives going forward,” Sonnier said.

The initiative sets the following goals to be met by 2015:

» Safely reduce the number of children in foster care by 1,000.

» 95 percent of all children returning home will not return to foster care.

» 85 percent of children will exit foster care within 24 months of entering — either through reunification with family or adoption.

» 50 percent of those in foster care will be adopted within 24 months, exceeding the national standard of 37 percent.

» 75.2 percent of children will be reunified with their family within 12 months, achieving the national standard.

» 85 percent of all children will exit foster care in a permanent placement — adoption, reunification, guardianship.

» All children exiting foster care will do so with permanent connections.

“DCFS’ over-arching focus is to keep children safe,” Sonnier said. “We will build partnerships with a variety of organizations that can assist us in accomplishing our mission, use existing best practices and tools and drive performance to continue to improve the way we provide services.”

The new initiative follows a record year for DCFS in adoptions. Last year, DCFS saw 652 children adopted by 468 families. Today, there are 638 children who are immediately eligible for adoption.

DCFS features profiles of foster children eligible for adoption on its website, www.dcfs.louisiana.gov.

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