Louisiana Elite Advocacy Force
LEAF, an acronym for Louisiana Elite Advocacy Force, was formed in 2019 as a re-designed version of LYLAC (The Louisiana Youth Leadership Advisory Council) and is the official Louisiana State Youth Advisory Board. Although the name is new, LEAF provokes memories from many child welfare veterans of LYLAC and how it brought together many former foster youths from around the state to develop a long-term supportive network of extraordinary young leaders over the years. The Department of Children and Family Services supports the work of LEAF, and several of the DCFS state office staff and consultants have hands-on roles in advancing the goals and advocacy work of the LEAF Board.
LEAF’s mission remains at the forefront of all work. It charges LEAF leaders “to advocate with current and former foster youth to unite voices and change policies, laws, and perceptions to empower youth to become leaders and reach their full potential.” The vision of LEAF is a world and community where every child has the right to safety, a loving home, permanency, and overall well-being in which they can build a successful future. The tagline is, “Utilizing negative experiences to facilitate positive changes for foster youth.” LEAF’s work is meaningful because the board engages influential young leaders who have aged out of the Louisiana foster care system. LEAF youth leaders are willing to use their inspiring stories of survival to ignite change statewide through policy development, speaking at conferences, sharing lived experience testimony annually at the Louisiana Senate, work-group participation, and more.
The youth leaders stay connected to ensure ongoing work through monthly board calls, bi-monthly workdays, and quarterly retreats. Even during COVID, LEAF leaders maintained meeting schedules by continuing to meet virtually. LEAF could not do this work alone. Statewide partners assist in child welfare advocacy, statewide projects, and pushing important initiatives forward. Those initiatives include Crossroads NOLA, James Samaritan, Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home, Empower 225, CASA, the Pelican Center, Southeastern University, Louisiana Child Welfare Training Academy, and more. This work happens through committees such as the Placement Stability Committee, State Board Structure and Training Committee, Policy Committee, and Media Committee.
Some of LEAF’s noteworthy accomplishments include authoring and passing the First Louisiana Foster Youth Bill of Rights (2021), Senate Bill 151: participation in the Louisiana Legislative FYI (Foster Youth Internship) Internship at the Capitol, and advocating for the passage of Senate Bill 109: Extended Foster Care Legislation. Previous and current LEAF presidents were members of the SCR 10 Legislative Taskforce in 2016-2019 that helped design the Louisiana EFC program model following federal guidelines in Senate Bill 129 Act 649. Additional accomplishments include developing stable and ongoing support and advocacy network and chain among former and current youth and creating social media pages and marketing and placement stability surveys.
Many LEAF members are current peer support specialists with the Independent Living Program. This program is provided throughout the state and allows ongoing support and engagement to current youth in care. In addition, LEAF leaders serve as a connection for youth voices on the local/regional levels to the state level. The youth voices and feedback impact ongoing changes, policy development, training measures, and more. LEAF members adequately represent the nine regions throughout the state and aim to maintain members on the board from each region to ensure equitable inclusion from different areas.
Overall, LEAF is a powerful advocacy force within the state of Louisiana led by extraordinary young leaders willing to utilize their personal experiences within the child welfare system to ignite dynamic changes on local and state levels in all service arrays through partnerships, committees, and uplifting youth voices throughout each area of the system.