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.
Mitchell Englander currently serves as the Los Angeles City Councilmember for the 12th District, which includes the communities of Granada Hills, Northridge, Porter Ranch, Chatsworth, North Hills, Reseda, Sherwood Forest and West Hills. Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, he has represented the 12th District since 2011.
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?
The county’s child protective services agency has been plagued with issues for many years and continues to struggle to fulfill it’s mission. Over the last few years, there have been a number of positive steps towards addressing the issues at the agency, namely creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection and the subsequent creation of the Office of Child Protection (OCP). The work of the commission, as well as the creation of OCP, have helped identify and address critical issues such as mismanagement, case load issues and overall delivery of services. However, in my view, there is a great deal of work to be done. As we work to implement many of the recommendations made by the commission, I strongly believe that regular reassessment and accountability measures are paramount to ensuring that the office is making real progress. I would like to implement an A-P3 – Assess, Provide, Promote, Protect – approach to implementing meaningful changes to address it’s short comings.
Assess: The Blue Ribbon Commission has made great strides in identifying the shortcomings of the child protective services agency. We need to prioritize on-going assessments of the agency as well as measuring the impact that new policies and initiatives have towards reaching identified goals.
Provide: Caseloads have been an issue. While it’s good to hire a thousand new social workers, as the county has done, doing that without giving them the technology and other support resources they need to manage large caseloads is useless. Many have quit, and caseload numbers have increased. While the most tragic stories have been in the front pages, everyday kids are abused, neglected or allowed to be preyed upon. We need to make a commitment to providing modern technologies and tracking mechanisms in order to track work, enhance coordination and improve the exchange of information between relevant agencies. Implementation of the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS) is one example of how technology can improve the agency.
Promote: A “see something, say something” approach to child maltreatment needs to be promoted countywide, to all residents, not just care providers and teachers. This is particularly true within the agency. I believe that the Office of Child Protection can play a central role in reshaping the culture within relevant county agencies.
Protect: There needs to be the same ability to anonymously report suspected abuse as there is for other crimes and even a similar reward-type incentive for information leading to convictions. We also need to place a greater emphasis on utilizing background checks as well as regular in-depth welfare checks to ensure that children are placed in safe and healthy environments.
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?
The challenge of finding willing and qualified foster parents comes down to one thing: resources. We spend the lion’s share of resources recruiting and hiring public safety professionals, from our sheriffs to our member cities’ police officers and firefighters. We also provide them with the resources they need to fight and prevent crime and to assist with emergencies, both natural and man-made. As a police officer, I can tell you that this provision of resources is essential to the hiring and retention of our force.
We need to do no less than this when it comes to the recruitment and retention of our foster parents. They are on the frontline of public safety for our most vulnerable children. We need to spend the money to promote foster parenting the way we do public safety hiring, attend community festivals with informational and recruitment booths, and advertise. In addition, we need to ensure that foster parents receive the financial support needed to adequately provide for a child as well as give them the extra opportunities needed to flourish: educational, medical, counseling and other ongoing support. Moreover, I believe we need to take steps to streamline and simplify the process for prospective foster parents. Stringent background checks and other measures are critical and should not be compromised. However, the process to apply to become a parent can be cumbersome and intimidating. I support the an ombudsman program to help prospective parents navigate the program and help expedite the approval process to bring more parents online faster.
Beyond adequate outreach and financial resources, we can also harness technology and improved tracking systems to ensure that we are fully utilizing the existing pool of foster parents. Working to create a robust and comprehensive database of foster homes will help ensure that we connect children with parents more efficiently. This will not only help place more children, but also reduce the workload for caseworkers and ultimately allow them to refocus energy towards the ongoing protection and development of a child.
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?
Among the homeless population, children are without a doubt the most vulnerable. Moreover, some estimate that roughly 25 percent of the homeless population in the county are children. Our county must take a stronger leadership role to address the homelessness crisis that is affecting the entire region.
This means aggressively working to coordinate services between local governments and agencies throughout the county and also leading the charge to implement a housing first strategy. The first and most important step we can take to get vulnerable youth off the streets permanently is providing housing. Once a child is in a safe environment with a roof over their head, we can do the work of providing the needed supportive services to both the child and their guardian to keep them from falling back into homelessness.
The county has recently taken important steps towards addressing the homelessness crisis with the launch of their new initiative. By the same token, the move to repurpose Prop. 63 funding is a game changer. While the proposal on Prop. 63 funding may provide up to $2 billion for permanent supportive housing, we will need to do more.
Securing the needed funding for housing will take a commitment from the federal, state and local levels. As a county supervisor, I will focus on identifying federal and state funding sources as well as identify ways to maximize efficiencies in existing programs.
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?
This is another area, much like homelessness, where we need to prioritize preventative measures and supportive services rather than leading with an approach that prioritizes incarceration. There is a demonstrated correlation between the lack of rehabilitation programs and recidivism rates. This is particularly true with young people. If we can reach them early in life, provided them needed counseling, supportive services, job training and life skills, we have a much greater chance of putting them on the right path and breaking the cycle of habitual incarceration. As a councilmember, reserve Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer and community leader, I have done a great deal of work with at-risk youth and have seen first hand the transformative power that mentorship and education programs can have on young kids and adults. I helped build the LAPD Devonshire Youth Center, home of the Police Activity League Supporters (PALS) program, which offers crucial after-school programs, sports, education and mentoring to provide at-risk youth an alternative to crime, gangs and drugs. These types of programs work. A rehabilitation-first strategy will not only help keep kids out of trouble, but will result in significant cost savings for the county due to reduce recidivism rates. In short, a juvenile justice system that leads with programs design to rehabilitate youth will result in better outcomes and substantial long-term cost savings.
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?
This is another area where county agencies must to a better job of coordinating and connecting foster youth with the educational services they need. Working to ensure that the Office of Education is working in lockstep with the Office of Child Welfare is critical. It is only through enhanced coordination and collaboration that children will received the needed counseling services, educational support and most importantly stability in their school life that is needed in order for a child to thrive and grow. Beyond identifying staffing shortfalls, we can make significant improvements in the educational development and experiences for foster youth by conducting a comprehensive assessment of current operations, identifying ways to improve the delivery of services, and providing the needed oversight and accountability measures to ensure that improvements are made in the system.
You can read responses from other candidates running for the fifth district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors here. You can RSVP for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Fifth District Forum on Children’s Issues on May 10 by clicking here.