L.A. Board of Supervisor Candidates on the Issues: Race and Foster Care

Racial disproportionality remains a key issue for L.A. County’s foster care system.

This weekThe Chronicle of Social Change is publishing a series of posts from leading candidates running to succeed Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Ridley-Thomas is stepping down because of term limits, and a several candidates is running to take his place on the board, representing more than two million residents across parts of South, Central and West L.A., as well as several other communities in L.A. County.

On March 3, voters will go to the polls to elect his successor, who will help oversee an annual budget of $33 billion.We asked several top candidates to share their ideas on the county’s critical safety-net challenges, including child welfare, juvenile justice, homelessness and affordable housing. To hear more about these issues, join us at a nonpartisan candidates forum on January 31 at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, hosted in partnership with Southern California Grantmakers and United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

Over the next week, we are sharing candidates’ policies related to child welfare, homelessness and affordable housing. Today is on the rampant racial disproportionality in L.A. County’s child welfare system.

Black children are overrepresented in L.A. County’s child welfare system. While black children compose 7.1 percent of all children in the county, they make up 28.6 percent of foster children here. What would you do to address this issue?

California State Senator Holly Mitchell

Holly J. Mitchell: We must protect our children and not be afraid to solve the unique challenges black children face that cause them to fall into our foster care system. As county supervisor, I will continue to build on the progress I have made in our state legislature to strengthen protections and access to vital services for foster youth. In L.A. County, our black foster youth are aging out and becoming homeless. This is unacceptable and with L.A. County having the largest foster youth population in the nation, we have a responsibility to lead on solving this. Our strategy must be in concert with all of the public departments foster youth rely on and be intentional about calling out the systemic barriers black youth face. I will work to decrease the caseloads for social workers. On average a social worker has 40 cases, and we know one case does not equal one child. We have the funding to invest in more social workers in our ERCP (Emergency Response Command Post) and Continuing Services division so we can drop the caseload down to the recommended 15 per ERCP. I will also support the restoration of the Resource Family Approval and would work to ensure that the remaining 2 million owed to bring the total to $20 million is given to the county.

Lastly, I must add that we know POVERTY is the primary issue that leads children into the system. Continuing our work to alleviate child poverty will clearly have a disproportionate impact on the Black family.

Lawyer Jake Jeong

Jake Jeong: If childcare needs are more easily met, children are less likely to wind up in foster care. Our foster care system is broken, and I want to stem the problem at its source. If we can ease the burden on our hard working families, that will, in turn, lighten the load on the foster care system.

The reality is that working families in Los Angeles are struggling with a lack of time and money. Average childcare services in our county cost nearly $1000 a month. Childcare is so expensive, in fact, that one year of childcare here costs more than one year of tuition at a California State university. More often than not, this burden is heavier on families of color, and they are forced to choose between going to work or taking care of their children.

I do not believe ANY family should be in this position. One of my primary initiatives is Future LA, which will provide subsidized and affordable childcare services to working families. Through local subsidies, I will work to bring down the cost of childcare, and incentivize service providers to target areas of need. The goal is to create an overlap between innovative solutions for problems like childcare and housing.

We need to ensure that no one is forced to choose between work and childcare. I stand for affordable childcare for all through my Future LA platform, my initiative to streamline the childcare approval process so that no one is stuck in red tape, and to redirect government funds toward developing more subsidized childcare options. Childcare makes our families stronger, and strong families build a strong community.

Former L.A. City Councilmember Jan Perry

Jan Perry: First, we must recognize that our current health and social service delivery systems have failed African American Families. To move forward, we must change the way we work with vulnerable families who deal with trauma in their neighborhoods caused by extreme poverty and violence.

Our work must begin when a woman attends her first prenatal care visit. She should be assigned a caseworker who can do an in-depth analysis of her situation and then give her access to high-quality services. Parents should be able to attend classes that teach parenting skills and not workshops that merely hand out information, receive job training, participate in continuing education programs, and access mental health care. These programs should be made available in permanent supportive housing or at local community or retail centers.

Social workers need to check-in on families to check on their progress and offer support.

We need to value our social workers by hiring more of them and provide them with administrative support so they can effectively manage their caseloads. And we need to look at funding ongoing education, particularly when it comes to trauma-informed care.

L.A. City Councilmember Herb Wesson

Herb J. Wesson, Jr.: As a father, grandfather, elected official and community leader, I see no greater responsibility than protecting the most vulnerable – our children. The fact that black children are overrepresented in foster care by nearly 400 percent is simply unacceptable and is driven by systemic failures to meet the basic needs of black families and children. We need to partner with the nonprofits, social work departments at Los Angeles universities and local agencies to find and fill gaps in service. I believe that by addressing our shortcomings, expanding mental health and addiction services and creating meaningful criminal justice reform, more Los Angeles children will be given the opportunity to live in safe homes without having to enter the foster care system.

For the children who do enter the child welfare system, we simply have to do better. The tragic deaths of Anthony Avalos and Gabriel Fernandez were caused, in part, by L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) failing to remove the boys from abusive homes and serve as a heartbreaking signal that DCFS is deeply broken.

A state audit found that DCFS, “has allowed children to remain in unsafe and abusive situations for months longer than necessary because it did not start or complete investigations within required time frames.” That practice must end now so that tragedies like the deaths of Anthony and Gabriel are never again repeated.

Our broken foster care system is an emergency, and, as such, my first action as supervisor will be ensuring that the DCFS fully implements the recommendations made in the state auditor’s report, including:

  • Implementing tracking programs to ensure investigations, background checks, home inspections, follow-up visits, etc. are completed on time.
  • Provide mandatory training to DCFS employees to ensure they are able to effectively assess safety threats and risks.
  • Reduce the number of caseworkers assigned to each supervisor to improve the quality of their assessments.

As supervisor, I will also:

  • Establish a standard emergency response protocol for foster children living with families who have been flagged by the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) so that children are immediately removed from uninhabitable and often dangerous situations.
  • Increase the number of caseworkers and medical examiners at the DCFS so that each child receives the attention and high-quality care that he or she deserves.
  • Create a comprehensive trained army of professional volunteers similar to volunteer fire departments that can provide rapid response by text or phone.

We also need to do more to help children in the foster care system live happy and full lives and successfully transition into adulthood. That’s why I will continue to work to expand access to after-school programs, tutoring and mentorship opportunities.

As a mentor and coach, I dedicated my life to ensuring all children have the opportunity to realize their dreams. As California State Assembly Speaker, I authored legislation mandating kindergarten attendance and worked to increase funding for classroom education and teacher pay.

As the L.A. City Council President, I worked tirelessly to expand after-school programs and mentorship opportunities to keep teens off the streets, in school, and away from gangs and drugs. I’m also completing the $50 million renovation of the historic Vision Theatre and secured over $150 million to refurbish and build new neighborhood parks in South L.A. so that our children have safe spaces to learn, grow and play. As supervisor, I will always act in the best interests of our children and youth, and I will:

  • Expand vocational training and apprenticeship programs for high-school students by connecting them with local unions, community colleges, and businesses.
  • Support funding for additional crossing guards and safety officers near public schools so that our kids can safely walk to and from school.
  • Partner with local schools and nonprofits to increase after-school and gang- prevention programs that set up our children for success.
  • Expand access to parks and open spaces so children and families have somewhere to relax and exercise.
  • Build a new children’s hospital, medical clinics and urgent care facilities within the 2nd Supervisorial District so everyone has access to high-quality, affordable care, regardless of their zip code.
  • Keep tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, out of the hands of our children and teens.

Stay tuned for more responses from candidates running for the second district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week. You can RSVP for a community forum on these issues, to be held on January 31 at Los Angeles Trade Tech College, by clicking here.

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