Fostering Hope Begins and Ends With a Smile
It’s no secret that how you view yourself affects your day-to-day life and professional performance. Leslie Lacy, founder of Fostering Hope Louisiana, a nonprofit organization on a mission to “address the oral and mental health needs of youth in foster care thereby cultivating their potential and equipping them to successfully embrace their future”.
Leslie started out as a graduate of LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center, where she represented parents in Child in Need of Care (CINC) cases before serving for 13 years as a Children’s Attorney for the Mental Health Advocacy Service/Child Advocacy Program. After resigning from her position, she devoted herself completely to straightening teeth, improving self-esteem, and educating and empowering youth.
How did she come to this conclusion? Through a fateful meeting in 2014 with an extraordinary 17-year-old client about to age out of the system.
“She had been accepted to numerous colleges and universities and it appeared that her only hindrance to success would be her smile,” explains Lacy. “Observing her dire need for orthodontic treatment, my husband, Dr. Fred Lacy, and I, financed the teen’s braces; thus, the idea was born.”
Following this act of charity, on September 12, 2020, she founded Fostering Hope Louisiana with the goal of using education as a means of addressing the oral and mental health needs of youth in foster care. She believed that doing this would help children in foster care fan the flames of their position and bring them closer to future success.
Foster youth in need are identified and referred by their Department of Children and Family Services case manager or Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer using a secure online form or the Unite Us Network. After submission, eligibility is based on a list of criteria and if all these points are met, an interview with their DCFS case manager or CASA volunteer is made, and they are enrolled in an Oral Health/Life Skills Training Series. This is an 8-session oral health training designed to teach youth how to care for their teeth. Secondly, life skills training imparts critical, practical skills useful for everyday living.
Of course, every good thing must meet at least one roadblock. Lacy notes that children in foster care are not eligible to receive braces unless it is deemed medically necessary and this requires two Medicaid denials and a recommendation from a dental professional. This lengthy process usually ends with a denial regardless.
“Because serious dental conditions are not addressed by the foster care system, children suffer with depression and low self-esteem not just from the trauma of their circumstances, but their appearance as well. Since most foster parents and relative caregivers are unable to afford treatment, Fostering Hope Louisiana ensures that these services are provided free of charge to eligible youth to relieve their families of financial burdens and to mitigate the anxiety of young people longing to experience life like normal teens,” says Lacy.
The nonprofit has spent the last year offering support to children from Baton Rouge to Covington. Additionally, during the past two years, they hosted Restaurant Weeks to raise awareness of the need for orthodontic and mental health treatment for children in foster care.
In the future, they expect to host larger fundraising events locally and statewide to raise funds for braces for foster youth. This effort will be greatly helped by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation awarding Leslie Lacy the 2022 Angel Award, a distinguished honor for an organization that celebrated its second anniversary last month.
“Fostering Hope Louisiana exists around three critical and unique partnerships with the judiciary, orthodontists, and community partners to ensure that the organization’s core values of integrity, accountability, and transparency are maintained,” asserts Lacy.
The best way to support this nonprofit and make a difference in the lives of children inside and outside of your community is to donate. Donations go towards paying for braces and ensuring foster children receive the treatment they need. To make this experience more exciting, you can view profiles of the foster care children in need that display their personalities and potential. Ready to donate or learn more? Visit fhlouisiana.org