Letter: More effort needed for La. children

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children was elated that the Governor’s Office invited us to hear the announcement of measures to reform Families in Need of Services programs. As the director of FFLIC, I have to admit that I found myself pretty choked up at hearing Gov. Bobby Jindal state that the FINS processes, both informal and formal are in need of reform.

A major reason that FFLIC exists is because families came to us for help, after the failure of the FINS process to refer their children to services to meet their educational, social, behavioral and mental-health needs. As stated by the governor, many children end up moving further into the juvenile justice system, rather than receiving help.

Since the passage of Act 1225, the number of children in secure care has dropped dramatically. According to parents, however, a key missing element is that the FINS process operates generally without a connection to available services in many judicial districts. Families who are in crises and entities are making these referrals after being told that if the family participates voluntarily, help and services will be forthcoming. Unfortunately, typically, services and/or help is often underfunded or unavailable and children end up in the deep end of the system.

We welcome the current legislative proposals, specifically the clarification of informal FINS as a voluntary process, clearly dividing the current distinction between informal and formal FINS legislation. These efforts, however, will be in vain, again, if the state of Louisiana is unable to provide needed services to our children and families. In addition, these efforts will be futile if we do not work harder to create collaborative efforts between departments and agencies, particularly between the education, behavioral and mental-health agencies. The need for collaborative efforts and more services was a major impetus for the creation of the Children Youth and Planning Boards, an unfunded mandate.

Act 1225 was a broad bill that succeeded in closing Louisiana’s most-notorious youth prison, but falls short of seeing full implementation of other important reforms. It is our hope, however, that this proposed juvenile justice legislation will continue to build upon Act 1225, and use the Louisiana Children Youth and Families Investment Fund to develop resources to support prevention, early intervention, graduated sanctions and other key components that will help our children and their families avoid further penetration into the juvenile justice system.

Members of FFLIC view our youth as “Children of Promise,” rather than “at-risk youth.” It is our mission to help all children reach their full potential. We remain steadfast in the need for equity, transparency and accountability and by ensuring that needed services are in our communities and available to all, we can serve our ultimate goals of helping to create a safe and productive environment for children and their families, increasing public safety, and a long-term savings of tax dollars.

Gina B. Womack, executive director

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children

New Orleans