California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is vying to replace longtime United States Senator Barbara Boxer (D) and become the first Latina ever to serve in the United States Senate.
Sanchez earned 19 percent of the vote in the June 7 primary election, finishing second behind frontrunner and California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who tallied more than 40 percent of the vote. Under California’s top-two system, the two democrats will continue their fight to fill the seat held for four terms by Boxer.
Sanchez currently represents California’s 46th Congressional District, an area that includes the cities of Anaheim, Santa Ana, Orange and Garden Grove in Orange County in Southern California.
Sanchez’s 19 years in Congress have included sitting on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, the areas in which she has co-sponsored the most bills. She has also fought for increased affordability for higher education.
But she says that her track record in advocating for foster youth on a national stage makes her the best candidate for California’s children.
In an email conversation, Sanchez told The Chronicle of Social Change why she’s a strong advocate of early childhood education, what other states could learn from California’s work on child welfare and what kind of juvenile justice reforms she would encourage.
The Chronicle of Social Change: In your opinion, what’s the most important way the federal government can improve the lives of children in foster care?
Loretta Sanchez: The only way the foster care system works is if children are successfully moved from dangerous and abusive situations into safe, stable homes. To this end, the government can help by increasing funding for the foster system, improving standards on foster homes to make sure children aren’t simply being moved from a bad to worse situation, and raising awareness to the fact that 400,000 children are currently in the foster care system.
These children have often endured tremendous neglect and, in too many cases, horrific abuse. This isn’t a problem we can keep ignoring. By increasing our funding to the system, we can utilize our resources to improve the conditions of foster and group homes while increasing the number of safe homes available for foster children. It’s unacceptable for children who have come from already difficult situations to be placed in dilapidated living conditions.
Additionally, extra funding for foster children could be used for grief counseling, as many of these children suffer childhood traumas, and supplemental educational support that will gear them towards attending college. Our goal has to be to create stability for children that have experienced tremendous instability in their young lives. But we can only achieve this if we continue to have the will to devote our resources to them.
CSC: During your tenure in Congress, in what ways have you seen California handle child welfare that you think could serve as a model for the rest of the country?
LS: In my 19 years as a congresswoman, I’ve seen California make tangible progress with our foster care system. We’ve passed laws that have improved standards for foster homes and increased our success in finding permanent homes for our foster children. The lengths of stay in foster care have decreased overall, meaning that children have a more stable existence. And perhaps most importantly, we’ve extended benefits to foster youth up until the age of 21, which provides a bridge of support between childhood and independent adulthood.
We certainly have plenty of work to do, but I believe we’ve made considerable steps in the right direction through legislation that could be emulated by other states. During my time in Congress, I have co-sponsored number of bills which seek to improve our child welfare system. I’m currently a co-sponsor of H.R. 3060, The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2015, a bipartisan piece of legislation which reforms teen “boot camps.” This legislation stems from incidents which happened in California.
CSC: Research has demonstrated that educational outcomes for foster and homeless youth are much worse than those of their peers in the general population, including a much lower rate of college completion. What would you do to support the success of these youth in schools?
LS: This is a gravely concerning reality, but one that is unfortunately unsurprising. A key component to educational success is the stability of a child’s home. This means we have to do everything we can to provide a stable home life that allows a child to focus on school and not the problems they face outside of the classroom. We achieve this by assuring that foster homes have adequate resources to support the healthy development of a child and by supplying resources in the form of educational support and mentorship to help guide children in the educational careers.
We have to support these children in their pursuits of higher education by increasing access to college by making it affordable and providing grants to support their ambitions. But again, we can only do this if we have the will to dedicate our resources to this cause.
I also support inclusion of homeless statistics into school accountability standards. Last year, I joined a letter urging ESEA [The Elementary and Secondary Education Act] conferees to include homeless foster youth statistics and data within state annual reports in order to better understand their academic achievement compared to other groups. The language was adopted in the final reauthorization.
CSC: A recent poll on juvenile justice from the Youth First Initiative saw a majority of those polled in favor of reform, including increased financial incentives for states and jurisdictions to invest in alternatives to youth incarceration. What is the single biggest thing you would propose to reform the nation’s approach to juvenile justice?
LS: As a country, we have to move away from a criminal justice system that values punishment over rehabilitation. This is especially true when dealing with juvenile offenders. We can’t afford to write off juvenile offenders as people that will never become contributing members of society. We have to build towards a justice system that identifies what leads to juvenile crime and how we can reintegrate these children into the fabric of society as constructive members and leaders in their community.
This is particularly necessary in communities of color, where data shows that minority children face harsher punishments than their white counterparts. Disproportionally introducing children of color into the criminal justice system at such an early age hurts families, communities, and damages their future potential. We need a paradigm shift in the way we deal with youth justice – in its fairness, application, and objectives.
CSC: What are the main ways in which your stance on child welfare differs from other candidates? What makes you the best candidate for vulnerable children?
LS: Throughout my legislative career, I have taken numerous stances to advocate on behalf of vulnerable children. In 2010, I co-sponsored the White House Conference on Children and Youth Act, which encouraged improvements in each state and local child welfare system and developed recommendations for actions in local, state, and federal programs.
Just last year, I co-sponsored a resolution recognizing National Foster Care Month as an opportunity to raise awareness about the challenges of children in the foster care system while encouraging Congress to implement policy to improve the lives of foster children. In my time in Congress, I have always supported initiatives that level the playing field for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. As a child of Head Start myself, I am a strong advocate of early childhood education.
The stronger and more equitable our education system is, the better we become able to ensure that vulnerable children have a chance to escape cyclical poverty and achieve beyond their original circumstances. My opponents simply do not have the track record that I possess when it comes to advocating for our children. As a senator, I will be a leading voice in the advocacy of vulnerable children and I promise to do everything I can to provide equal opportunity for all of our children, regardless of circumstance.