On June 15, The Chronicle of Social Change published an article, “Time to Abolish Racist Foster Care System, Commissioner Says,” which described parts of the Los Angeles County Commission for Children & Families’ June 15 virtual meeting. The Chronicle is an important part of the child welfare and juvenile justice landscape, lifting up issues and voices that might otherwise receive little attention.
I have been a long-time reader and champion of its work, even contributing as a writer on more than one occasion. I am also the Chair of the Commission for Children & Families. For all of these reasons, I was deeply disappointed when I read the article.
As originally published, the article contained inaccuracies and mischaracterizations to the degree that two of the three women highlighted in the article were moved to ask that it be entirely retracted. And, while some corrections and changes were made to the most egregious errors, the original version was widely seen, causing those two individuals to be misrepresented in ways that were important to them, and to the child welfare community more generally.
In an error that remains uncorrected, the author reports that “several members [of the commission] describ[ed] the nation’s largest foster care system as racist and ineffective in its efforts to combat the overrepresentation of black and brown children taken from their parents.” In fact, the acknowledgement and discussion of this problem in child welfare systems addressed it on a societal, rather than local basis.
The use of this statement to frame the article is compelling. But the statement is inaccurate and mischaracterizes the nature of the discussion, as evidenced in the meeting made available to the reporter on the morning of June 17. When there is urgency to publish immediately, it might be wise for reporters to employ their own recording devices, so as not to depend on notes alone.
In response to recent events (COVID-19 disproportionate outcomes, the murder of George Floyd and others by police) and the resulting dramatically increased awareness of the structural racism and inequities in our society, the Commission had scuttled our previously planned agenda to instead devote the meeting to discussion of how the Commission’s work going forward should contribute to increasing equity and reducing injustice in LA County.
The resulting discussion was raw at times, honest, and fruitful, and as we all recognized, only the beginning of both an important conversation and a more pointedly focused emphasis on inequity and healing in the work ahead. As a nation, and as a county, we stand at a momentous threshold, where there is great pain, and great opportunity to do better. At times such as these, the critical importance of accurate reporting cannot be overestimated.
Our Commission meets virtually on July 20 to continue this important discussion. We encourage those interested to join us.
Wendy Smith, Chair, LA County Commission for Children & Families