Earlier this month, Governor Edwards signed a bill extending foster care to age 21.
“Nobody is ready to be alone, totally alone at 18.”
Sure 18 is the legal age of an adult, but in the foster care system that age is sometimes just a number.
Marketa Garner Walters is the secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services. She says, “Our foster youth tend to fall behind so many of them have not graduated from high school at 18 so this ability to stay in school to finish their education in high school or an equivalent degree this gives them that time for that.”
Not only time for a degree but time for success. Research from the 28 other states extending their foster age to 21 is proof.
Garner Walters says, “We see the youth that stay in foster care until 21 have less homelessness, we have more high school graduations, we have less human trafficking, we have less juvenile justice intervention. And so we know that the outcomes are better if they have somebody to support them just for those two or three more years when they’re in the extended foster care program.”
Local foster mother Dawn Zeller says it’s not just about book smarts, it’s about real world knowledge that a parent or guardian gives along the way. “If you think something’s not right who do you go to, who do you have? So if you stay in this foster care program to extend you’ll have these people to go back to and say I don’t think something is right can you help me with this.”
Zeller’s adopted son, 16 year old Dakota has seen it first hand. His siblings have aged out of the system but still needed the support.
“My brother went to college he did the FASFA wrong and he didn’t get as much money as he could’ve.”
Dakota also explains how he doesn’t want to go through the same thing. “This is going to be my future, this is me. I wasn’t prepared. I would need those extra years to help learn and gain skills I didn’t have.”
All it takes is for 18 year-olds to want to be part of the program and the community to step up and help.
Dawn Zeller says, “Most of these children don’t have anyone reliable to go back to or the people they do have to go back to are going to be the ones to take advantage of them all over again. You can be the one that stops that from happening.”
Click here for more information on requirements and how you can help.