South LA coalition pushes for foster care improvements

There were about 15,600 minors living in out-of-home placements in Los Angeles County at the end of last year, according to the Department of Children and Family Services. This means that these children are living in group homes, foster homes, shelters or homes of relatives or non-relative extended family.

Nearly half—about 7,600 total—are living with extended family, in formal Relative Care, placements that allow children and youth to remain in the care of an extended family member.

Most of these minors living in foster care reside  in South Los Angeles, Aaccording to the Community Coalition of South LA, (CoCo), with about 25 percent of these minors in the care of relatives reside in South LA, though it comprises around 10 percent of the county’s population. CoCo has been running a campaign called Kinship in Action, to get more support for these caregivers, as they make everyday sacrifices to take in the children and are an integral element to stabilizing their community, said CoCo community organizer Doniesha Young.

Young said Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) doesn’t give enough financial support to relative caregivers, even though they take on a large part of the foster care system’s burden and are instrumental in providing the best care for the children.

“[DCFS is] inefficient. A lot of the money goes toward administrative stuff, and it doesn’t go toward the actual services to help the children,” she said. “Also, there’s a lot of stats that will tell you children do better when they’re with family members than when they’re with complete strangers.”

Young said often the trouble with diagnosing and addressing the issues affecting urban communities like South LA is understanding the historical context that makes a neighborhood what it is today.

As another CoCo organizer, Karume James, said, “Context is everything.”

Young said the combination of crack-cocaine, de-industrialization, gang activity and several other historical factors has created a unique struggle for families in the South LA neighborhood, and that is why relative care is so important for these minors. In fact, according to CoCo documentation citing DCFS, a minimum of 40 percent of children overall who have been removed from their homes by DCFS are from South LA.

“So the companies basically moved out of this area…and shortly after that, there was mass incarceration of a lot of people due to the flooding of drugs in the area,” she said. “Now there were people dying from taking the drugs, people were going to prison for selling the drugs, and then the children were left to fend for themselves. So the only line of defense against that was the grandparents, or an aunt or uncle who could take the children in.”

But while these relative caregivers are helping to improve the neighborhood’s stability and take on responsibilities of foster care, CoCo says that more of the system’s money is still going to things like privatized group homes, which sometimes function more to gain profit than provide adequate care for children.

CoCo is currently planning an upcoming campaign called “Family Care, Not Foster Care,” which aims to put more children into the hands of their relatives instead of the general foster care system.

This campaign hopes to ensure that “relatives have access to a comprehensive network of neighborhood-based services that promote the healthy development of children and prevents problems that would remove them from relatives’ homes and send them to more expensive privatized care.”

*This is the first post of the Kinship In Action Series, which will be progressively covering the state of relative care in South LA throughout the semester.

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