BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana's first lady took the wraps off a new website Friday, aimed at helping connect the community with foster families across the state.
"These are our children and we need to step up," said First Lady Donna Edwards, introducing the website at an event at the Governor's Mansion.
The website was created in partnership with the Department of Children and Family Services. The website is paid for with a $25,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
It is designed to serve as a gateway for churches, non-profits, and businesses that want to get involved with helping foster families, whether by paying for summer camps, hosting parties, or doing outreach. It also provides information to families looking to adopt.
The new initiative comes as DCFS has been downsized over much of the past decade, losing hundreds of employees.
"We don't have the staff capacity to support the foster parents as staff members and case workers the way we should," said DCFS Sec. Marketa Walters.
In Baton Rouge, HP Serves, a program sponsored by Healing Place Church, is serving as a model this initiative.
"There's obstacles, these kids have been impacted by trauma to a degree we cannot imagine and there needs to be support systems around them," said Claudia Berry, the executive director of HP Serves.
They offer housing and provide outreach to foster kids who have aged out of the program. Once they turn 18 years old, foster children are no longer in the state's custody. Sometimes they end up homeless on the street.
"The kids here don't know that they can be more than what they are. They're not going to aim for doctor or lawyer," said Mark Woodfork with HP Serves. "I'm just hoping that with this program, that they can see that they can do bigger things."
They also assist with adoptions and host programs for foster families.
Tyler Livingston, a former foster kid, stays in a home through the HP Serves program. He also helps with community outreach, riding around the neighborhoods of North Baton Rouge distributing goods and looking after at-risk youth.
He is excited by the prospect of getting the community more involved with foster kids. "With the church stepping in, it gives most of the kids hope, that there's still good in the world," Livingston said.
Across Louisiana, an estimated 4,300 children are in the foster system on any given day.