The California Youth Connection has announced Robin Allen as its new interim executive director, following a chaotic few weeks for the foster youth advocacy group that saw former director Haydee Cuza resign after laying off more than half of the organization’s staff in the middle of a global pandemic.
“I’m happy to step back in to provide some stability and healing and keep us moving forward on CYC’s incredible mission,” Allen said in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change on Monday.
She said one of her first jobs will be to help the group’s 900 members, staff and adult supporters tackle technology and communication challenges during the pandemic so members can resume their advocacy, organizing and training work at the county and state levels.
For 25 years, Allen worked for the statewide association of Court Appointed Special Advocates, including 12 years as executive director. Most recently, she worked with the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center on its Quality Parenting Initiative team, an effort to improve caregiving for foster children. Allen served as interim executive director of California Youth Connection in 2015 and 2016, before Cuza took over. She is slated to start her new job on Friday.
“We are excited to welcome Robin back and look forward to healing, renewal and growth as we continue to live our mission and provide advocacy by, for and on behalf of California youth in foster care — especially during this challenging time for our state, country and world,” the California Youth Connection board said in a news release circulated by Loretta Kane of Camino Public Relations, the firm hired to help navigate public messaging following the mass layoffs and Cuza’s resignation last month.
Cuza, who had led CYC since 2016, resigned March 30 after an uproar from CYC members and supporters who were outraged at her decision to lay off 10 of the organization’s 17 employees — most of them former foster youth — in the middle of the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Cuza said the moment provided the right opportunity for the more than 30-year-old organization to take an “intentional pause” to restructure into “CYC 3.0.”
Less than a week after the layoffs, the board announced Cuza would be leaving the role immediately. And on April 6, the board announced that the laid-off workers had all been asked to return to their positions.
Vanessa Hernandez, CYC’s deputy director and one of the employees let go by Cuza and then rehired, said she was pleased with the board’s decision to bring Allen back on board.
“I’m excited to work with Robin Allen again,” Hernandez said. “I’ve witnessed her ability to engage members directly and hold space in such a compassionate way — something I really admire.”
As she returns to a familiar role with the organization, Allen said CYC’s role is more important than ever at a time when the coronavirus has limited the ability of California’s child welfare system to work well.
“We can make all kinds of plans and think that we’re doing a good job,” Allen said. “But if we don’t know that the young people in care in our counties are getting what they need, and if they aren’t telling us how they need to get it, then they’re just out there adrift.”