This week, The Chronicle of Social Change is publishing a series of posts from leading candidates vying for the fifth district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Longtime Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich is being forced out by term limits after 36 years in office, and voters will go to the polls to select his successor starting on June 7. We asked these candidates to share their ideas on child welfare, juvenile justice, youth homelessness and education issues. To hear more about these issues, join us at a fifth district supervisorial candidates forum in Pasadena on May 10.
Elan Carr is a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney. Before working as a felony prosecutor, he served as an officer in the United States Army.
Last year, Los Angeles County created the Office of Child Protection to ensure that child safety is embedded in all the county’s agencies and departments. What sort of child maltreatment prevention approaches and strategies should the county adopt and encourage to protect children?
Government’s most important job is to keep its citizens safe – especially those who can’t protect themselves. Our children deserve to live in communities, neighborhoods, and homes free from violence or neglect. Creating the Office of Child Protection is a necessary first step, and it is the least we can do. The years of torture and eventual murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in our very own county – more specifically right here in the 5th District – should be evidence enough that more needs to be done. As supervisor, I will ensure that the Department of Children and Family Services – specifically the offices related to caring for children – has the tools, training and manpower needed to do its job. Also, as a criminal gang prosecutor, I see every day the disastrous effects of violence in the home. The best deterrent to violence is not only severe penalties for the perpetrator, but educating our kids at an early age that violence is unacceptable.
Los Angeles County finds itself in a foster parent recruitment crisis: the number of foster parent applicants is down 50 percent over the last decade. What would you do to better recruit and retain foster parents in the county?
By fostering or adopting, we have the ability to transform forever the life of another human being while immeasurably enriching our own lives. I am especially sensitive to this because I hired foster parents on my staff and shared in their joys and challenges. Our county desperately needs to do a better job of marketing the benefits of adoption throughout the community – not only the benefits to the children, but to those fostering and/or adopting. There is a wonderful system of nonprofit agencies throughout the state who can help the county recruit and retain quality foster parents. One of the largest challenges with being a foster parent is burn-out, because the children sharing their home have gone through extremely traumatic events and the foster parents typically suffer from transferred trauma. In order to avoid this we need to ensure that foster parents have an adequate support network that can help them care for their children.
Los Angeles County has been confronted by a sharp uptick in homelessness. A large percentage of the homeless population are youth. How can the county better support these vulnerable youth and get them off the streets?
While youth homelessness is a very troubling problem, homelessness in Los Angeles County is not new. We have the largest homeless population in the country – more than 44,000 – and we need leadership. As a criminal prosecutor, I personally experience the results of homelessness on both the homeless population and on the community. That’s why I volunteered to be a part of the new Community Collaborative Court program, where I worked together with judges, probation officers, and county Department of Mental Health personnel to find treatment programs, as an alternative to incarceration, for homeless defendants who are mentally ill or abusing drugs. The problem of homelessness requires both short-term and long-term solutions.
While the county had well-founded reasons for closing the Youth Welcome Centers – including a lawsuit by the state – the closure merely exacerbated the problem and created even more homeless children. We need a safe and expeditious process to remove, hold and transfer children to their new placements. I will ensure that we devote enough revenue every year to housing as well as to programs. And I will expedite development of affordable rental residences so that we can bring the cost of housing down. I look forward to working with the governor, county department heads, the sheriff, district attorney, leaders in the community and adoption agencies to create a robust plan to fix the homeless issue in our county.
Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?
I spent a full year prosecuting minors in juvenile court, and I myself have sent kids to juvenile hall, camp, and on occasion to the Department of Juvenile Justice (formerly CYA). Now, as a criminal gang prosecutor, I prosecute very young adults and regularly secure sentences longer than the than the years they have been alive. It is agonizing to me to see so many of our kids deprived of a nurturing and empowering education and the chance at a good job after high school. Public safety is the main focus of my campaign, and it is vital to remember that we can’t handcuff our way out of the current crime problem.
Fighting crime begins with education. Access to early childhood education is critical to fostering quality development in children. Those of our public schools that are crumbling must be fixed, and the education our children are receiving must be re-tailored to learning fundamental concepts instead of being tailored to taking a test. In high schools we must, once again, offer career education training to ensure that our children are graduating with skills they can immediately use in the workforce. And we must have robust after-school programs to engage our kids after hours. When a minor or young adult must be incarcerated, the task of helping them reintegrate into society is difficult, but not impossible. Angel Sanchez from Florida, who served time in state prison for attempted murder, turned his life around and is now earning his degree. We need to make sure that the kids in juvenile hall who are even mildly interested in rehabilitation get all the tools they need to turn their lives around.
These tactics will work and they will save our county more than $233,000 annually, because those kids who begin committing crimes when they are younger have a much higher propensity to continue committing them into adulthood. In short, we must devote every resource at our disposal to ensure that no one believes about themselves what inmate Jesse Opela said: “I guess this is my destiny to just be in jail all my life.”
As research has demonstrated, the educational outcomes for foster youth are much worse than those of their peers in the general population. What can the county Office of Education do to support the success of foster youth in schools?
Reports have also shown that school districts do not adequately allocate the funds they receive specifically for foster kids in a way that helps those kids. It is no surprise that children who are in the foster care system have endured unbelievable trauma during their short lives and will in turn need additional help. A good education is the foundation for productive membership in society, and that is why we have a public education system.
Only 10 percent of foster children will attend college (compared to 65 percent of graduating seniors) and of that, only 3 percent will eventually graduate. We owe it to all foster children to increase that number dramatically. As supervisor, I will propose a dramatic plan of “60 by 2060.” That is working with the federal government, the state, and private organizations to make sure that by 2060 at least 60 percent of foster children in Los Angeles County make it to college upon graduation.
You can read responses from other candidates here. Stay tuned for posts from other candidates running for the fifth district seat on the on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors every day this week. You can RSVP for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Fifth District Forum on Children’s Issues on May 10 by clicking here.