The October 2021 Blog
Volume 3, Edition 12
A Word from the
First Lady of Louisiana
Everyone Can Do Something
I was invited to participate virtually in the Science and Ethics of Happiness workshop on “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” this month. This workshop was hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Science and Social Sciences at the Vatican in Rome.
A special thank you to Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo for the personal invitation and the work he has been doing over the last few decades through this Academy. Also, I want to acknowledge the great work of Jeffrey Sachs throughout his professional career and his leadership through this Academy.
In 2016, my husband John Bel Edwards and I were blessed to become Governor and First Lady of Louisiana. As pro-life/whole-life Democrats, we are considered an oddity in politics. Some have used the word unicorn in their descriptions. We hit the ground running in 2016 to address the many problems, including poverty, which has been a long-standing issue in our state, poor education and health outcomes, and tackling a historic budget deficit of nearly two billion dollars that threatened critical state services.
My husband signed an executive order expanding Medicaid for the working poor on his first day of office. Today, more than 680,000 Louisianans now have health insurance who were unable to afford it before. In addition, we also have the lowest percentage of uninsured Louisianans in our state’s history because of the expansion of Medicaid.
The issue of human sex trafficking (HST) was not on my radar, but it quickly came to the forefront as a pressing matter that needed attention in our state. You see, before this position, I had never heard of this type of crime. I soon came to understand that it existed right in front of me – in front of us all.
Many of you may know or have heard of Sister Eugenia Bonetti from Rome. She has been working in this space for decades. Through her work, along with the work of Father Jeff Bayhi and the Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy, I came to be involved in the effort to end human sex trafficking.
In January of 2017, we traveled to Rome and met with Sister Bonetti to learn even more about this crime and to meet others who were working hard to end trafficking. We met women from all walks of life but ended up in the same situation due to these traffickers. So, my journey of understanding began at this point.
In all sincerity, I was reluctant to take on the issue of human sex trafficking at first. It was tough to hear the stories of adults and especially victimized children. I didn’t want to listen to the horror of this terrible crime happening across our world, including Louisiana.
But I listened to those who have been on the front lines and prayed for the victims of this heinous crime. As a practicing Catholic trying to live out my faith, I accepted the calling to use my platform and leverage my leadership role as the First Lady to raise awareness about this serious crime.
We soon learned there is a real connection between poverty and human sex trafficking. That’s why we have focused our efforts on helping foster youth establish permanent relationships. One major step we have taken is extending foster care to 21 years of age. The goal is to surround foster youth with the resources and support that they need to exit foster care as stable, confident adults with relationships they can continue to rely on. Currently, there are 233 youth in our Extended Foster Care Program.
Children in foster care are at greater risk of being victimized by human sex trafficking. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, it’s estimated that 60 percent of child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system. Human traffickers will prey on the most vulnerable individuals, which is why foster children have a greater risk of becoming victims than those who aren’t in the system.
On any given day in Louisiana, we have an average of over 4,000 children in our foster care system. Since 2016, we have had a record number of over 4,000 foster children who have found their forever homes. Approximately 66 percent of children were reunited with their biological families once their relatives received counseling and support to create loving, nurturing, and safe environments.
This year, I supported a bill that created the Governor’s Office of Human Sex Trafficking Prevention, and it was signed into law by my husband this session. This new office is Louisiana’s first government entity dedicated solely to addressing human sex trafficking.
We all understand these crimes have no borders, so in 2020 I started reaching out to the first spouses of governors in other states to see how we could work together on a larger scale to address this problem. They were immediately on board, and we began hosting virtual Human Sex Trafficking Global Summits. The response has been tremendous.
To date, we have held four summits that have collectively attracted more than 1000 participants consisting of first spouses, state leaders, and national and international service providers. We have learned so much and created contacts and connections across state lines. Part of this process includes learning more about the trauma that comes from this abuse or, as Pope Francis calls it, this scourge on humanity.
I began attending courses and participating in forums to better understand the effects of this type of trauma. We are currently working on a Trauma and ACE’s Statewide Plan. I take away from these many courses my layman’s understanding and then share this knowledge with others hoping that they too will begin to understand what is actually happening.
Many everyday people want to understand and become involved. Some may ask, what do I have to offer? How can I make a difference? I asked myself those same questions at one time. I do not have professional or formal training in this area of research and understanding of HST.
This is how I respond. I can offer myself by learning and doing all I can do to better understand ways to prevent and bring awareness to this crime.. I am constantly educating myself, learning all that I can by reading books and articles about trafficking and organizations that rescue, heal and teach victims how to rise above the ashes. I participate and listen to seminars and podcasts by law enforcement to better understand their perspectives.
I volunteer at homes like Metanoia Manor in Louisiana, a safe haven for trafficked young girls. The average age of the victims is 13. Metanoia is the only one of its kind in our country where the state, civic organizations, and faith-based groups have come together to help survivors restore their lives. I listen and learn, and my empathy deepens when I look into the eyes of these young girls.
I support and raise money for organizations like Children Advocacy Centers which carry out the hard work of rescuing, counseling, and rebuilding the lives of these victims. I travel, speak and share the stories of the survivors, and I lift them in prayer. This is how I support these victims and support the professionals that do the hard work.
We have created the National Coalition of HST Prevention and will hold the first conference in New Orleans in April 2022 for The Final Four NCAA Championship weekend. As many of you know, large sporting events draw traffickers, and our goal is to consolidate resources from all of our state agencies to produce a sizable statewide campaign that says, “Our state’s people are Not for Sale.” We want to see this replicated in other states as well.
Lastly, I will say we must invest in early childhood and public education (because children are our future), affordable and accessible healthcare for all, and more low-income housing. Otherwise, we need to admit that we are trapping people inside the walls of poverty.
Let us all RISE UP to help survivors of this terrible crime of human trafficking, raise awareness and provide solutions and policies to support the needs of the victims. We all deserve access to a quality life. Together, we can and will make a difference.
LOUISIANA FIRST FOUNDATION
Yes Mam, No Mam, Thank you Mam = Teach MAM!
(Music, Arts, Movement)
03. GOVERNOR'S MANSION
Upon entering the Governor’s Mansion, you’re immediately taken aback by the stunning historical architecture and walls covered in fine art. As you progress through the foyer, you’ll notice two rooms, one on the left, one on the right. The room to the right is the State Dining Room which contains many historical pieces of art, but the one we’ll focus on in this month’s blog is the beautiful wooden china cabinet and what resides inside.
“The Fight of Our Lives”
by Monique Pierce Hamilton MD, FACOG
PEOPLE OF LOUISIANA
Making A Difference
2022 Louisiana State Elementary Principal of the Year
Desert Storm 30th Anniversary Commemoration
04. FEATURED RECIPE
KETO JALAPEÑO POPPERS
These keto jalapeno poppers are a low-carb appetizer that is so easy to prepare! Wrapped with bacon and with a creamy, cheesy filling, it’s a show stopper! Baked, not fried!
SOMETHING TO DISCERN
05. PAST QUOTES
THE FIRST DOGS
06. THE FIRST DOGS
Just out here looking for Fall.
07. OUR EDITOR
A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Delery has lived there all of her life except during undergraduate school and a brief stint in Seattle, WA. She is a mother to four boys, ranging in ages from 21 to 16, and they are the heart and soul of her life.
After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications, she went on to receive a Masters in Non-Profit Management from Louisiana State University. Her volunteer work has mostly evolved from issues that have affected her personally. Actively engaged in disability rights advocacy, Delery has testified numerous times in the Louisiana Legislature regarding issues that affect persons with developmental disabilities. She served as the chair of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council, worked for seven years directing regional advocacy efforts and is a graduate of Louisiana’s Partners In Policymaking.