The Alliance for Children’s Rights announced today that Laurie Rubiner, a long-time political staffer and advocate in Washington, D.C., will become the advocacy organization’s new CEO.
Rubiner is currently the chief of staff for Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and previously served as vice president for public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood and as legislative director for then-Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). She will start the new gig with the Alliance in mid-September.
The Alliance for Children’s Rights is a child welfare advocacy organization based in Los Angeles that provides free legal services, advocacy and programs that create pathways to jobs and education for foster youth, according to its website.
The organization’s current CEO, Janis Spire, is retiring. She has held her position for the past 15 years and will remain part of the organization during its transition.
Rubiner became involved with several influential pieces of child welfare legislation early in her career, when she served as a legislative assistant to former U.S. Senator John H. Chafee. The Republican senator from Rhode Island helped pass the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997 and the Foster Care Independence Act in 1999.
“Laurie’s professional experience speaks for itself,” Spire said in a statement emailed to The Chronicle of Social Change today. “On the policy front, she’s been at the forefront of improvements that benefit children and families for decades.”
“I’m looking forward to retirement and more time with my family, including my wife Kathy, who has been so supportive of everything that this job demands for the past 15 years,” Spire said. “I’m staying in Los Angeles, and I look forward to continuing to support efforts to champion young people, especially those who grow up in foster care.”
As she prepares to begin her position as head of one of California’s most important child welfare advocacy organizations, The Chronicle of Social Change asked Rubiner a few questions via email today.
Chronicle of Social Change: After working in national politics for much of your career, why have you decided to come to Los Angeles and lead the Alliance for Children’s Rights?
Laurie Rubiner: My proudest professional achievements are when I feel that I have truly helped a vulnerable person or group of people. The child welfare legislation that I was able to help shape in my years working for Senator Chafee stayed with me as some of the most important work I have ever done. I always thought that I would come back to this issue and when the Alliance position became available it was serendipitous. California, with about 60,000 children in foster care, has a huge need and is also a laboratory of change and innovation. It seems like the perfect place for me to bring my experience and commitment to the issues. Under the leadership of Janis Spire for the past 15 years, the Alliance has done great work for children in need and I am looking forward to continuing her legacy.
CSC: Locally in Los Angeles County, statewide or nationally, what are two problems in child welfare policy and practice that you want to help solve as CEO of the Alliance?
LR: One of the things I learned working on this issue is that so many supports end for young people in the foster care system when they turn 18, or, in states like California with extended foster care, 21. Most parents can’t imagine that their children become completely independent, financially and otherwise by 18 or 21, but that’s what we expect of those in the foster care system. That is why, during my time with Senator Chafee, we worked so hard to pass the Chafee Independent Living Act, so that children aging out of foster care would continue to have a basic support system and have less risk of becoming homeless or falling into poverty. I want to continue to focus on these supports, including reducing the risks for former youth of becoming incarcerated, making sure they have as many job opportunities as possible and ensuring that they have access to proper health care.
The second issue I’d love to solve is the child’s right to remain in their school of origin when they enter foster care or change homes. The most destabilizing thing we can do to a foster child is make him change schools every time he changes placements. Remaining in the same school provides continuity, allows the child to benefit from the familiar relationships with their teachers and friends. The Alliance has played a leading role in working with school districts and agencies in California and state policymakers to improve school stability for students in foster care, and I look forward to continuing that work.
CSC: Having worked in roles where you handle many different areas of public policy, does child welfare policy require more widespread understanding and attention than it currently has? Is it possible to make child welfare a greater focal point within public policy today?
LR: Absolutely. Consider just one terrible crisis we are facing in social policy – the opioid crisis. We have all read about the skyrocketing death rates from the prevalence of opioids and cheap heroin in so many areas around the country, but very few policymakers are thinking about what happens to all the children who are being left behind. Conversations about the public health crisis posed by substance abuse epidemics of all sorts must take into account the needs of children whose lives may be destabilized by a parent’s addiction. We must provide treatment and adequate healthcare for the parent, but we also need to make sure that children and whoever steps up to care for them, including relatives, receive all the support the child needs to recover and thrive. Immigration policy has a similar impact on children, when a parent is deported and children who are in the U.S. legally and are left behind — or when the fear of deportation causes relatives who might be in a position to care for a child to be too afraid to come forward. There are much broader repercussions to all these issues that are not being thought through.