Three former foster children called on Louisiana legislators to support improvements to the state's foster system during an emotional hearing at the State Capitol on Wednesday.
Ian Marx, now a student at the University of Notre Dame, said he still considers his foster family's house his home and will for the rest of his life.
"For the very first time since my father, I felt like I could finally trust someone again," he told the legislative panel.
Marx, whose father killed his mother when Marx was just 12 years old, came into the family initially as a temporary stay and after a bad foster home experience.
"My first placement was terrible. I was lost and I was afraid. I felt like I couldn't trust anybody," he said.
Aliyah Zeien said she aged out of foster care in 2014. She spent five years in the foster system after her caregiver grandmother died and her parents were later had their parental rights terminated, after mentally and physically abusing her. She made it her goal to work with DCFS and help other.
State leaders say that Louisiana's budget crisis could have a startling impact on some of the state's most vulnerable residents, as the state'…
"I hope to positively impact the lives of youth and foster care," she said.
Tiffany Stitt, a student at the Southeastern Louisiana University, detailed how she and two siblings were placed in foster care after their parents faced sexual abuse allegations. An older sister was already 18 at the time.
"She wasn't able to receive any benefits, any help," Stitt, who is pursuing a degree in social work, told legislators.
She called on legislators to work to improve programs for children in similar situations.
"There were a lot of challenges along the way," she said.
Legislators said it was meaningful for former foster kids to share their stories.
"For me, it's really important that we never forget and we're always able to put the faces to the issues," said Sen. Regina Barrow, a Baton Rouge Democrat who chairs the panel that heard Wednesday's testimony.
"These kinds of testimonies I wish we could hear on the House floor," said Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge.
She said that she felt the testimony helped illustrate how important programs are.
"It means naught if we don't put our money where our mouths are," she said. "This is not growing government but helping people succeed in life."
The Department of Children and Family Services has been on a push to improve foster care in Louisiana, but like many state services, it's faced financial struggles as lawmakers tumble from one budget crisis to another. A law that would allow some children to stay in the foster care program until they turn 21 is contingent upon funding.
"We're on the right path, we know we have a long way to go," said DCFS Secretary Marketta Walter.