Search This Blog


Confusion catches out LA foster children policy

If you get queasy when considering the old saw that the process of making laws is like watching sausage get made, imagine passing two bills that overlap on the same issue. That’s a wreck that caught up foster children policy this past legislative session.

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has considered the feasibility of extending foster care from age 18 to 21. It worked with Democrat state Sen. Regina Barrow, who has long taken an interest in children’s policy, to introduce a resolution to study this at the start of that session. In early May, both chambers had signed off on it, scheduling the report’s completion by Feb. 1, 2019.

But even before this, Republican state Sen. Ryan Gatti filed a bill to do the same for any foster child enrolled in high school or something equivalent. That passed out of the Legislature only days later, although it hinged upon receiving funding for implementation.

Even more interestingly, Gatti’s bill read that it would become law upon the governor’s signature. That happened at the beginning of June before session’s end, although it wouldn’t take effect without an appropriation.

That came three weeks later, when in special session the Legislature effectively reversed only a portion of taxes it raised over two years earlier. $1 million of the tax increase – which, ironically, Gatti voted against – went towards funding his initiative.

This put DCFS in a weird position. At the same time it helps to prepare a report about what policy it should follow, the new law already moots considerably the purpose of that report. Only about 50 youth who will turn 18 but haven’t obtained a high school diploma and aren’t pursuing something like that wouldn’t qualify as statute presently is.

However, the report can investigate whether to expand foster care those under 21 pursuing further education or who have medical difficulties. Federal dollars exist that with a state match can fund that.

The problem is whether this cart-before-the-horse routine will create problems. What if the study determines expanding the program, in any form, makes for a too-costly long-term commitment with insufficient positive impact? That would mean the state would have to pull the rug out from under existing beneficiaries.

(After the session, Gatti also held an event where he collected gift cards on behalf of foster families, to which he invited his law school pal Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. He insists no campaign fundraising activities occurred on this occasion, and he has held other such events with other politicians.)

DCFS claims Gatti’s bill blindsided the agency. Yet Gatti filed his before Barrow’s and Barrow herself eventually signed on as a co-sponsor of his. Gatti and Barrow each voted for the other’s effort, just days apart. Why Gatti, Barrow, and DCFS didn’t all get together on this seems a mystery.

Hopefully, this lack of communication won’t gum up the works, and the state eventually will come up with optimal, coordinated policy regarding older foster children.

No comments: