L.A. Turns to Religious Communities to Help with Foster Home Shortage and Racial Disparities

As Los Angeles County struggles to maintain enough foster homes to house the youth in its care, county leaders are looking to the faith community to better support the child welfare system.

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved two separate plans for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to collaborate with faith-based organizations to aid in recruiting new foster parents and provide community-based supports like visitation monitoring, respite care and mentorship for both youth and parents.

“It’s my hope that if we support parents with additional resources in the faith community, we can safely reduce the number of children in care while also concurrently building our pool of foster families for those children most in need,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who coauthored both motions with Supervisor Kathryn Barger. 

The number of foster homes in the county has declined over the past decade from 5,938 in August 2008 to 4,062 in August 2018, according to DCFS.

Tuesday’s motion directs DCFS to partner with the Center for Strategic Partnerships (CSP) to identify “promising pilot programs” with faith-based organizations across the county. In a separate motion, the supervisors directed DCFS to work with faith-based organizations in Pomona to develop a pilot project for engaging and serving the African American community.

One of the goals of the plans put forth is to address racial disparity within child welfare — DCFS reports that 24 percent of youth involved in child welfare are black, but they make up around 7 percent of the county’s child population.

The board motion indicates that DCFS has been working to rectify these disparities, pointing to its work implementing recommendations from a 2012 report and the new African American Community Engagement (ACE) Program, which uses navigators to help reduce the number of out-of-home placements by better connecting families to county support services.

A pilot approved Tuesday is meant to build on these efforts to reduce racial disparities by working with Pomona faith-based groups.

“It is the job of the church — while these are your constituents, these are our congregants,” said Rev. Ivory Brown, senior pastor at Brown Memorial Temple in Pomona and a member of ACE.

The county is also hosting an event on Saturday at First Christian Church in Pomona, which is designed to recruit more foster parents.

Each of the board members spoke positively of the plans to engage the faith communities in pursuit of improving the child welfare system. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas rattled off a laundry list of social issues that have been successfully championed by religious groups in the county’s past, from fair wages to refugee rights.

“The faith-based community is a sleeping giant,” said Brown. “We have so much to offer.”

In addition to spurring foster parent recruitment, county leaders believe engaging faith-based communities can provide important supports to both birth and foster families, not only improving the experience of children and families in the system, but also preventing entries into out-of-home foster care.

“We know that many of those involved in the faith-based community want to support the child welfare system, but cannot commit to becoming full-time foster parents,” says one of the motions. “We also know that we need more resources beyond foster families and homes.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was supportive of both motions but expressed trepidation about how LGBTQ foster youth would be treated by faith communities as they begin to work more closely with the child welfare system, citing a recent study that found 19 percent of foster youth in LA County self-identify as LGBTQ.

Kuehl recalled fighting for legislation to protect LGBTQ children when she served as a state legislator. “The strongest opposition came from churches,” she said.

Jeanette Mann of All Saints Church in Pasadena abandoned the prepared remarks she had planned to deliver during her allotted speaking time, but instead addressed Kuehl’s concern, vowing that her church has “been at the forefront of welcoming LGBTQ people.” Rev. Oliver Buie with Holman United Methodist Church echoed that sentiment.

Through its Project Foster Care ministry, All Saints’ Church has recruited 140 volunteers, who serve as mentors, coaches and other sources of support for more than 1,000 youth involved in the county’s foster care system. For example, its Family Connect Pasadena program trains and recruits volunteers to monitor visits between biological parents and their kids while the children are placed in foster care.

“Most of all, I think the members of the faith-based community will benefit from the experience they have when they touch the lives these children,” Mann said.

Both motions instruct participants to provide the board with a progress report in six months.

Please join us Oct. 16 in Los Angeles for an important event focused on foster care and faith communities, coinciding with the release of our investigative report “Who Cares: A National Count of Foster Homes and Families.” You can learn more and register here: bit.ly/WhoCaresLA

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Sara Tiano
About Sara Tiano 53 Articles
General assignment reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change